ED MILIBAND was forced to defend his leadership of the Labour Party last night amid claims that MPs are plotting to oust him because they fear a humiliating defeat in next year’s general election.
With just six months to go before the vote, senior Labour peer Lord Soley raised concerns about a lack of leadership and at least two MPs are understood to have contacted the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), demanding Mr Miliband’s resignation.
The Labour leader was confronted over his position at a meeting of the PLP earlier this week, after a poll commissioned by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft put the Conservatives one point ahead of Labour.
Last night, Mr Miliband dismissed the reports of a plot and insisted his party was focused on the challenges facing Britain. He said: “This is nonsense. My focus, the Labour Party’s focus, is on the country and the things that matter to the country. That’s the cost-of-living crisis, it’s the NHS, it’s the prospects for the next generation.”
Asked about claims that MPs have approached senior party figures calling for him to resign, Mr Miliband replied: “Honestly, this is nonsense. Our focus and the Labour Party’s focus is on the country and is going to remain on the country because there are huge issues that our country faces.”
However, one front-bench Labour MP said: “There are a significant number of people across the party who want him to go.”
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Lord Soley said: “The problem is not so much individual policies as the lack of a vision and a sense of direction for the country, combined with lack of clear leadership responsibility in the leader’s office.”
Later, in a broadcast interview, the Labour peer said: “It is serious. It would be silly to say that every Labour MP was relaxed about the present situation. You know that’s not true and it’s no good me saying they are relaxed.”
He added: “I don’t know whether there will be a leadership contest or not. I’m not in a position to know.
“What I do know is that we can deal with the present situation if we do a ‘Team Labour’ approach, sense of vision, sense of direction. Don’t worry about the individual policies – they are in there and they are not bad – but they need to be part of that wider message and it needs to be done by Team Labour.
“If you get that message over, people will come back to the Labour Party. They won’t do it if we just do individualistic things.”
Mr Miliband’s leadership has also been slated by current affairs magazine the New Statesman, which backed him for the top job in 2010.
It branded him an “old-style Hampstead socialist” who does not understand the “lower middle class or material aspiration”.
The magazine quoted one shadow cabinet minister as admitting “morale has never been lower”, while another shadow minister said MPs were “all very, very concerned”.
Damian McBride, who used to be a spin doctor for former prime minister Gordon Brown, said: “He [Miliband] can’t do much about the fact he comes from Hampstead but he can do something about the fact that he’s constantly acting as though life revolves around what goes on in Hampstead.
“There’s no sense of getting out there and understanding what ordinary people are feeling, including about himself, and trying to address that personal problem he’s got.”
Mr McBride said the Labour team might be “whistling in the wind” if they were hoping to win over voters by showing them the “real Ed”.
Asked whether he believed claims a letter was being circulated among back-benchers, Mr McBride replied: “I don’t know and it’s difficult to know because the paranoia that comes out of the Miliband camp is so rank that they will invent plots even when there are none.
“But I think the mood is pretty black in Labour. Since party conference, the mood has got blacker and these are wild times.”
Labour MPs have told The Scotsman that polls showing the party could lose more than 20 seats in Scotland to the SNP, combined with low approval ratings for Mr Miliband, have “spooked” many who now want a change at the top.
One senior party figure pointed to the fallout from Johann Lamont’s resignation as Scottish Labour leader. It is understood Mr Miliband had personally appealed to Jim Murphy to run to replace her because “he recognises that we face a nightmare in Scotland” and need a big-hitter to shore the party up.
The senior figure added that the collapse of support and loss of control in Scotland had “frightened” many MPs. He said: “If we can’t win in Scotland, then we are in trouble.”
However, shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who ran against Mr Miliband for the Labour leadership, rallied to his defence.
He said: “Everybody in the Labour Party, from Ed Miliband down, is focused on tackling the cost-of-living crisis, building an economy which works for working people, reforming Europe but not walking away, having tough and fair controls on immigration, saving our National Health Service – that’s what Labour’s for.
“It’s the Conservative Party which are riven and divided and defecting left, right and centre. We will focus on Tory division. Labour will stay united.”
Another Labour MP said the main reason Mr Miliband could stay was “a lack of an alternative to take over”, particularly after former home secretary Alan Johnson rejected advances to stand for the leadership.
But the MP added: “We have a genuine crisis.”
SNP MSP James Dornan said: “If these reports are to be believed, then the knives are well and truly out for Ed Miliband as his MPs in Scotland panic about their prospects of keeping their seats. Labour are paying a heavy price for their alliance with the Tories in the anti-independence campaign.”
The SNP also pointed out that in a recent YouGov poll, none of the respondents in Scotland thought Mr Miliband was doing “very well”.
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