Senior Labour figures will launch a renewed drive to “turn up the volume” this week after weeks of damaging sniping at Ed Miliband and his Shadow Cabinet over their low profile during the summer.
Lord Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, fuelled the turmoil as he protested the party had “massively failed” to get its case across and hold the Conservatives to account in recent weeks.
Chuka Umunna, the shadow Business Secretary, accused Lord Prescott and other internal critics of falling victim to “hysteria” and insisted: “We are talking loud and of course we will be turning up the volume even louder as we get towards the general election.”
Labour will seek to regain the political initiative by spotlighting large rail fare increases and excessive rent rises, while Mr Umunna is also planning to highlight the rapid of growth in employers demanding that staff accept “zero-hours” contracts.
But the stresses within the party were underlined by Lord Prescott’s comments in the Sunday Mirror.
He attacked its strategy during the parliamentary recess, complaining that Labour “didn’t set agendas; we followed the news”, and challenging Mr Miliband to sack under-performing Shadow Cabinet members.
His comments infuriated senior party sources. One said: “Everybody is entitled to their opinion – even the person who ghostwrites John Prescott’s articles.”
The academic Lord Glasman, the Labour “guru” who was awarded a peerage by Mr Miliband, added to criticism of the leadership.
“At the very time when Labour should be showing the way ahead, it gives the impression of not knowing which way to turn,” he said.
“When the Labour battle bus should be revving up, it is parked in a lay-by of introspection. It is time for Ed Miliband to show he is a grown-up politician big enough to lead this country.”
Miliband loyalists are drawing comfort from Labour’s opinion poll lead, although Caroline Flint, the shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, admitted his lack of personal popularity was an issue facing the party.
“Individual popularity poll ratings are always given prominence, but the truth is that, when it comes to the election, that’s not always a significant factor,” she told The Observer.
“Think back to Labour leaders in the past who were popular, but couldn’t win elections. Margaret Thatcher was unpopular but won elections.”
Aides insisted Mr Miliband – who suffered an unfortunate return from his summer holiday last week when he was hit by an egg while campaigning – was calm in the face of the disquiet. They said he was focusing on Labour’s conference next month at which he would set out his direction of travel.
A ComRes poll has given Labour a nine-point lead over the Conservatives, enough to put him in Downing Street with a handsome majority, but also found his popularity had fallen to a new low, with just 22 per cent of voters viewing him as a good leader.
In broadcast interviews, Mr Umunna insisted the party would not be blown off course by recent squalls, including a call by the former Home Secretary Jack Straw for the Labour leadership to “turn up the volume”.
The phrase has unfortunate connotations as the former Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, promised he was “turning up the volume” shortly before quitting.
Mr Umunna said: “There has been some hysteria around over the August weeks and the facts are this – since Ed Miliband became the leader of the Labour Party, we have been winning back support all over the country.”