Miliband warns over ‘infighting’

Published: Monday 13th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Ed Miliband urged the Labour Party not to let the chance of general election victory slip away after a bruising few weeks for his leadership.

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.

Mr Miliband called on the party to resist “lapsing into the bad habits” of disunity and 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.

Around 20 MPs or peers spoke during the 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”.

Labour sources claimed the party’s attack on Ukip as “more Tory than the Tories” was getting through to voters.

A source at the meeting played down divisions within the party’s ranks, claiming they were far more united than the Tories or Liberal Democrats.

“If you look at how unified the party has been, if you look at how unified the party is, it would be unfair and inaccurate to describe us as in any way divided.

“If you compare us to the divisions being shown in the Tory party … if you look at the state of the Liberal Party and the divisions about strategy and tactics there, a reasonable observer would conclude that we are the most unified of all those parties by a long, long way.”

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’s 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.

Before the 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.

“There is a problem that applies to Ed and the people round him, that the Labour Party have recruited and appointed too many people who have very little experience of the world,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“They have been assistants to MPs, bag carriers for ministers, they’ve come through the system, they’ve been parachuted into seats where they’ve got no roots.

“It’s meant there’s been a disconnect with parts of the party – particularly the leadership – and what’s really happening in many of the communities we hope to represent.

“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: Monday 13th October 2014 by The News Editor

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