David Miliband is considering a surprise comeback to frontline politics in an attempt to end speculation about a continuing rift with his brother Ed.
Friends of the former Foreign Secretary said yesterday that his joining the Shadow Cabinet was a "live issue" in his circle of political allies. "There is a debate going on. Some people are arguing that it would be better to be a team player than look as though he is sulking on the sidelines," said one source.
A biography of Ed Miliband by journalists Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre claims the relationship with his elder brother is still very strained eight months after he defeated him to win the Labour leadership. There were weekend reports that David is waiting for Ed to fail so he could mount another bid for the job.
David Miliband is receiving conflicting advice. He still believes he made the right decision last autumn when he decided to leave the front bench and some friends have told him he would be "mad" to return. "The soap opera we saw at the weekend would run daily; it would be a nightmare to manage," one said.
Aides of the Labour leader insist he would welcome David's return to the fold. Yesterday, Ed Miliband denied his brother was sulking and dismissed claims he lacked his wholehearted support as "totally untrue." He said: "Ordinary people up and down this country inhabit a different world. People aren't interested in who said what to whom in the Labour Party. I am here because I was elected by my party. The gossip and tittle-tattle of Westminster is irrelevant to most people's lives."
In a landmark speech, Ed Miliband promised to make Labour the party of society's "grafters" and admitted it had become associated with benefit cheats and overpaid bankers.
"For too many people at the last election, we were seen as the party that represented these two types of people – those at the top and the bottom who were not showing responsibility and were shirking their duty to each other," he said.
"Labour – a party founded by hard-working people for hard-working people – was seen by some, however unfairly, as the party of those ripping off our society." He said the previous Labour government had not done enough "to change the ethic we inherited from the 1980s – 'the take what you can culture' of those Conservative governments".
He proposed that people who are in jobs or do voluntary work should get priority on council house waiting lists. At the top of society, big firms would be forced to publish the gap between their top and average earners.
Frank Field, Labour's former Welfare Reform Minister, said it was difficult to overestimate the significance of Ed Miliband's speech. "It begins to redefine what Labour means by fairness and so begins the long haul of building a new coalition of voters straddling both working and middle class voters," he said.
But Labour was accused of double standards after it emerged that it would vote against the Government's Welfare Reform Bill at its third reading tomorrow. Labour officials said the measure would penalise people who "did the right thing" and that the party believed in the contributory principle on benefits.
Labour suffered another setback last night when a Populus poll for The Times suggested even Labour supporters are losing confidence in its ability to rebuild the economy.
Only 23 per cent of voters now say they trust the Labour leader and Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, to run the economy better, a 10-point drop since March. Some 41 per cent say they trust David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne "to manage the economy in the best interests of Britain", down 3 points. Overall, the Government's team has extended its lead over the Opposition's from 11 points in March to 18 points today.