Front-runner Miliband admits Labour mistakes

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David Miliband has admitted Labour has made a series of mistakes and revealed his frustration at the party's inability to fight back against David Cameron's resurgent Conservatives.

The Foreign Secretary, front-runner to succeed Gordon Brown if he is forced out by his Labour critics, entered the debate over the party's future in a newspaper article which is bound to be seen as an attempt to start setting out his personal credo ahead of a possible leadership contest. He did not mention Mr Brown at all in the article.

Friends insist Mr Miliband would play no part in any attempt to oust Mr Brown – but believe he would be a candidate if the Prime Minister is toppled. Last night, aides emphatically denied he was launching a leadership campaign, saying he was about to leave for his summer holiday. They said his intervention reflected his concern that Labour was landing few blows on the Tory opposition. That criticism is shared by Labour backbenchers who believe that Mr Brown will not be able to successfully attack Mr Cameron because the public have stopped listening to him.

The Foreign Secretary admitted the odds were against a fourth Labour election victory, but insisted the party could win. He said Labour must not yield to "fatalism" and should remember there is little sense among the public of what the Tories stand for and what they would do if in power. "So let's stop feeling sorry for ourselves, enjoy a break, and then find the confidence to make our case afresh," he said."The starting point is not debating personalities but winning the argument about our record, our vision for the future and how we achieve it," he said. However, like Jack Straw, the Cabinet's elder statesman, he did not rule out a debate about the leadership after Labour MPs have taken their holidays.

Writing in The Guardian, Mr Miliband said: "To get our message across we must be more humble about our shortcomings but more compelling about our achievements. With hindsight, we should have got on with reforming the NHS sooner. We needed better planning for how to win the peace in Iraq, not just win the war. We should have devolved more power away from Whitehall and Westminster. We needed a clearer drive towards becoming a low-carbon, energy-efficient economy, not just to tackle climate change, but to cut energy bills." He said: "People want protection from a downturn made in Wall Street, and the country needs to prepare for an upturn when new service industries – insurance, education, care, creative industries – are growing at home but also among the new Chinese and Indian middle classes."

Mr Miliband describes Mr Cameron as "a conservative not a radical," adding: "He may be likeable, and sometimes hard to disagree with, but he is empty".

The feverish atmosphere in Labour's ranks was underlined when Harriet Harman, the deputy leader, was forced to deny plotting against Mr Brown. She insisted she was not preparing a campaign to run for the top job as she dismissed a report that she had been overheard telling aides: "This is my moment".

Labour MPs claim up to 10 junior ministers are willing to quit their jobs in September to force Mr Brown out of office. A former minister said yesterday: "Brown is proving an unmitigated failure and there is no shortage of MPs willing to go public with that view. I have spoken to several members of the Government who say that they will resign if it proves necessary to provoke a change of leader before it is too late. There are probably at least 10."

There was speculation last night that as much as much as half of the Cabinet has lost confidence in Mr Brown's leadership. Two Labour MPs have called for the Prime Minister to stand aside but their fears he is leading them to oblivion at the next election are shared by many more. Mr Miliband and Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, appear to be the favoured candidates to replace him. There is talk that the pair could form a "dream ticket" to pull the party together. But they would almost certainly face a challenge from the left from Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, and Jon Cruddas, the Dagenham MP, while Mr Straw could also enter a contest.