Balls warns that division will lead to poll disaster

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Indy Politics

Dire warnings that Labour faces electoral catastrophe if MPs do not rally round Gordon Brown were issued last night by two of the party's most influential figures.

Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, told a packed fringe meeting organised by The Independent that the party faced "disaster" if it turned in on itself, and urged the party faithful to channel their efforts into fighting the Tories.

Jon Cruddas, the former Downing Street adviser and deputy leadership contender, told the audience of more than 400 activists that a leadership coup would not help Labour recover. He said: "If it was as simple as replacing the leader of the Labour Party we could all sleep easy. The world is a much more complex place than that."

Mr Balls, one of Mr Brown's closest political confidants, made clear his fury over the insurrection against the Prime Minister which saw 13 Labour MPs demand a leadership contest. He said: "We've got to be united, we've got to look forward, we've got to be determined, we've got to be disciplined and we've got to want to win.

"Fatalism and division is a disaster. It would let in Jon's constituency and in my constituency the Tories in to do the terrible damage to jobs and public services and child poverty which they did in 18 years of Conservative rule."

But Mr Balls insisted that previous governments had bounced back from equally daunting opinion poll deficits. He said: "The economy will turn and there is still a debate to be had with the public as to whether they want a Conservative government. It would be a huge betrayal of our constituents for the Conservatives to get in by default."

And he urged the Labour Party to avoid division, warning them starkly: "That is a sure-fire way to lose the next general election."

Mr Cruddas, the MP for Dagenham, warned that toppling Mr Brown "will not provide some sort of jump-leads for the party to win the election. It is going to be won by hard grind. There is no silver bullet. We had better get on with uniting the party and putting a radical policy manifesto together."

He told the meeting entitled: "How can Labour win again?" that critics of Mr Brown had been "hyperventilating" and "throwing Molotovs" at the party leadership.

Mr Cruddas said Labour had been "too timid" and proposed a radical string of policy initiatives ranging from a new 45 per cent top rate of tax on incomes over £175,000, the scrapping of the Trident nuclear deterrent, and free school meals for all children, to giving more democratic control over the police, raising the minimum wage, and a drive against childhood asthma. Mr Cruddas declared: "The task at hand is to have an equivalent radical policy agenda in 2008 as we did in 1997. The real question is to have the will to do it and if we do we can win the next election."

He criticised ministers for failing to communicate Labour's message during the credit crunch. He said: "We have gone through a very difficult economic period and we haven't always been as good as we should at explaining to people what's happening."

Mr Balls admitted: "There have definitely been some mistakes in the past year... we always have to make sure we learn from those mistakes and don't make them again."

Chuka Umunna, the candidate for the Labour seat of Streatham, and a man seen as a young rising star in the party, said the financial turmoil of the past fortnight gave the Government a "massive opportunity" to prove its credentials with the public.

He said Mr Brown "does not do political razzle-dazzle. He is not in the business of political showbusiness".

But he said people wanted a leader who could steer the country through difficult economic times.

Mr Umunna called for Labour to pursue a "bold, radical agenda", to stop talking in technocratic language, to highlight its achievements locally and to "go for the jugular" against David Cameron. He said: "We've got a chance we didn't have two weeks ago, so let's go for it."