Ed Miliband is "getting into his stride" after nearly nine months in his job and should not be underestimated, one of his leading allies said yesterday.
The remarks by Peter Hain, who was a prominent supporter of Ed Miliband in last year's election campaign, coincided with a drive by the Labour leader to overhaul his party to turn it into a sharper campaigning organisation.
Labour MPs are due to hold a vote soon on whether to accept Mr Miliband's call for elections to the Shadow Cabinet to be ended, so that he can appoint the team he chooses. He also wants Labour's conference and national policy forum to be opened to charities and community organisations.
The Labour leader has also hinted at a reduction in the power of the union block vote at Labour conferences – where the country's four biggest unions hold 40 per cent of the voting strength.
Mr Miliband's performance has been under fire because of Labour's inability to pull ahead of the Conservatives in opinion polls, and because of persistent speculation that he has failed to win over leading party members including his elder brother, David Miliband, who were part of the modernising project under Tony Blair.
In a separate interview, Mr Blair refused to be drawn into passing judgement on Ed Miliband, but he gave a veiled warning that Labour will not get back into power if it abandons the centre ground of politics. Mr Hain, the shadow Welsh Secretary, said that Labour is undergoing a "serious transformation" that would put it back in touch with the public.
He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "What we are embarking on here is a really serious transformation of a political party, the biggest one undertaken in living memory, because politics has changed and we are a party – like the others are – that is stuck in the past.
"There's been a catastrophic decline in all political parties. So we're transforming the party to open it up to the public and to individuals who feel they want to make their contributions to our policy and to our future."
The changes under way are an example of "Ed Miliband being prepared to be tough," he added. "I think people are underestimating him. I think he's getting into his stride. He's going to get stronger."
Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary, acknowledged on Sky News's Murnaghan programme that Labour needs to do "a lot more" to achieve its ambition to get back into power after one term in opposition. But he added: "Ed's a good, strong leader and I'm sure he'll help take us back to government at the earliest opportunity."
When Mr Blair was asked on the BBC's Politics Show whether Ed Miliband is a "torch-bearer for New Labour" the former prime minister said "I'm not going to start undermining the person who has taken on my mantle."