European elections 2014: Ed Miliband tries to stave off internal squabbles in Labour following disappointing results
A bout of Labour infighting broke out as it launched a post-mortem.
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Monday 26 May 2014
Ed Miliband was warned that internal squabbling could jeopardise Labour’s general election prospects following the party’s disappointing result in the European elections.
Amid divisions in the Shadow Cabinet over whether Labour took the Ukip threat seriously enough, Lord Mandelson told The Independent: “Labour needs to think hard about its electoral strategy and how to regain momentum. But a good strategy is only possible from a united team. They need to come together, not turn on each other. That’s what the party expects.”
The former Cabinet minister and ex-European Commissioner issued his warning after Labour narrowly beat off the Conservatives to secure second place in the Euro elections. Labour won 25 per cent of the votes and 20 MEPs while the Tories’ 24 per cent gave them 19 MEPs. Without a strong performance in London, Labour could have come third.
A bout of Labour infighting broke out as it launched a post-mortem. “The performance is worse than we expected and everyone is blaming someone else,” said one party official.
Several Labour MPs have accused the leadership of not attacking Ukip strongly enough despite warnings that it was appealing to Labour’s working class supporters. Some Shadow Cabinet members have complained that the Labour campaign was “all about Ed,” while Miliband allies accused some frontbenchers of not pulling their weight and being “wise after the event.” Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, has admitted Labour’s performance was “not good enough yet.”
Labour pointed out that the party had beaten the Conservatives in a Euro election for the first time in 20 years, saying Labour usually performed much better at general elections.
Mr Miliband argued that Labour was “making progress” but admitted it had “further to go.” He said the Euro elections showed “deep discontent" in the UK and Labour needed to show it could "answer the call for change". Embarrassingly for Mr Miliband, Ukip topped the poll in Doncaster, his constituency base.
The Labour leader rejected pressure from his party to match David Cameron’s offer of an in/out referendum on Europe in the 2015-20. "We will have a referendum if there is any transfer of powers from Britain to the European Union,” he said.
Some Labour MPs fear the party is in danger of sleepwalking to defeat next May. Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, described the party’s Euro election results as “catastrophic.” He added: “The idea that we can go into the general election without upgrading the Tory promise on a referendum is idiotic. It’s the equivalent of the political Somme, of sending us over the tops of the trenches into battle without anything acto fire with.”
John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, drew a parallel with Labour taking false comfort before its 1992 general election defeat and opting for “just one more push.” He said: “It would be foolish to repeat that error. We ignore Ukip at our peril.”
John Mills, who chairs the Labour for a Referendum group, said: “The British people have clearly voted for parties offering a referendum on our membership of the European Union. In some areas, Ukip is taking Labour votes. Surely now the Labour Party needs to examine its European policy and commit to holding an in/out referendum.”
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