Published: Tuesday 14th October 2014 by The News Editor
Ed Miliband has called for unity within his party a fter a bruising few weeks for his leadership, insisting a Labour election victory was “within our sights”.
The narrow victory over Ukip in the Heywood and Middleton by-election and a lacklustre conference performance have increased the scrutiny on Mr Miliband’s position.
But he told a packed meeting of Labour’s MPs and peers that he would fight “with every fibre of my being” to win the election, and he expected everyone else in the party to do so to.
Deputy leader Harriet Harman echoed the message, warning that a “wobble” over the leadership would be bad for the party and the country.
Mr Miliband called on the party to resist “lapsing into the bad habits” of infighting in the months running up to May’s general election.
He told the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP): “Normally after an election we show disunity and division.
“We have had four years of unity. I am not going to let us, seven months before an election, start lapsing into the bad habits of the past.”
Mr Miliband accepted “things are going to be more difficult” in the run-up to the election and “this is not 1997”.
“There will be ups and downs which make the last few weeks look easy,” he acknowledged. “I know that we will pass that test.”
He told the meeting: “There are about 200 days to go. I am going to fight with every fibre of my being to win this election. I expect every person in this room, I expect every person in this party, to do the same.”
Mr Miliband said returning to government after May’s election is “absolutely doable” and “it is within our sights”.
“I am not going to let that opportunity slip,” he said in the meeting at Westminster.
Ms Harman said being leader of the opposition was a “tough job” when asked by one caller on her LBC Radio phone-in show if Mr Miliband was “burying” Labour’s chances.
She said: “I don’t think he is burying the Labour Party, far from it.
“The truth is nobody in the other parties was talking about the issues that people are concerned about, like their pay falling back, and their fuel bills going up and the cost of living problem. That was something put on the agenda by Ed Miliband.
“He is in touch with people’s concerns; we do need a Labour government to really make sure the health service doesn’t carry on on the slide.
“I think it’s a very tough job being Leader of the Opposition and it’s easy to point to all sorts of other people and say they would be better, but actually as soon as they are in the hot seat it’s evident how tough a job it is.
“But I think Ed Miliband has got the absolute determination and also the sense of not only what the problems are, but what the solutions are.”
She added: “O ne of the things that is not going to help this country or the Labour Party is having any sort of wobble or any leadership election, so that is not what we are going to be doing.”
Around 20 MPs or peers spoke during the PLP meeting, the majority were supportive but a senior source said two MPs were “less so”.
One backbench MP at the meeting said there were more than two critical voices, including former minister Frank Field.
In the wake of the Heywood and Middleton result, Mr Field warned that if it “heralds the start of Ukip’s serious assault into Labour’s neglected core vote, all bets are off for safer, let alone marginal seats at the next election”.
Ukip trailed Labour by just 617 votes in Heywood and Middleton, a seat Mr Miliband’s party had held with a majority of almost 6,000 in 2010.
Mr Miliband is attempting to counter the threat posed by Ukip by promising reforms on immigration.
He told the meeting immigration was one of the five key policy battlegrounds at the election, along with living standards, aspiration, the NHS and the economy.
Mr Miliband did not set out any new immigration policies, but spoke about the “n eed to take action against the undercutting of wages, the need to take action to make sure people integrate more, the need to make sure people learn English, the need to make sure there are not unfair recruitment practices”, a source said.
Ms Harman appeared to concede that Labour’s message on immigration had not got through, telling LBC: ” I do think there are issues around immigration which are causing people concern, concerns which I share and that we do need to address.
“I think that most people don’t yet really know what we are saying about immigration.”
She said Labour would like to see reforms of European Union freedom of movement rules to help prevent criminals from entering the UK, and to make it easier to kick out people who had committed offences while in the country.
“It’s the free movement of labour but not the free movement of criminals,” she said.
Before the PLP meeting backbencher Graham Stringer warned the party was paying the price for ignoring voters’ concerns about immigration and that Mr Miliband was no longer an asset to them on the doorstep.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ” If you go on the doorstep, Ed isn’t an asset to us. I don’t think that’s even a controversial thing to say, rather sadly. They think he doesn’t understand the problems they are suffering.
“In the Heywood and Middleton by-election it was the line coming from the leadership that this was about the health service. You only had to knock on three or four doors in Middleton or Heywood to find that what people were talking about was immigration.
“You can’t hope to win elections if you don’t talk about what the people are talking about. We have a problem on both communications and credibility. People have to believe what we say and at the moment they simply don’t do that.”
Published: Tuesday 14th October 2014 by The News Editor