Ed Miliband's advisers must urgently kill off the new leader's reputation as "Red Ed" if the party is to win back disillusioned former supporters in southern England – that is the warning from political consultants, senior colleagues and former No 10 insiders.
The 41-year-old from north London remains an unknown quantity to much of the country following his narrow victory in the leadership election. That presents the party with the scope to tailor his image to the tastes of the public.
But those experienced in shaping the strategies of political figures emphasised that he must first nullify attempts by the Tories to frame him as a throwback to Labour's failed past, and ensure voters are left in no doubt that he is a very different proposition to Gordon Brown. The geeky demeanour – endearing to some, unnerving to others – may also have to go, they said.
"He has emotional intelligence and can reach out to people in a way Gordon Brown couldn't," said Paul Richards, a former special adviser to two Cabinet ministers.
"Although he has gone through a gruelling leadership contest, my advice would be that he needs to go through an equally gruelling campaign to reconnect the party with the voters – particularly in the south of England where we did so badly.
"The 'red Ed' tag is ridiculous, but it needs to be taken on."
Lance Price, who worked in Downing Street under Tony Blair, added that Mr Miliband needed to ensure he defined himself against failed past leaders. "We know what he's not but not yet what he is," he said. "How does a new generation centre-left politician differ from an old generation one?
"What does he believe in and want to do that Neil Kinnock wouldn't, for example? He needs to act fairly quickly to provide some definition to his leadership before others do it for him."
Jack Straw, the former Cabinet minister who is stepping down from the frontbench, said that Mr Miliband's rapid rise to the top meant he would have to put in the miles just to introduce himself to a sceptical electorate.
"He has just got to get out and around – he is user-friendly and has very good interpersonal skills," said the former Justice Secretary. "There is a lot of hard work to be done where we lost.
"Coming from well behind in the leadership contest showed great determination and he showed readiness to address difficulties which present problems to the party. The closeness of the result and the so-called psychodrama with his brother are difficulties that need to be addressed."
Carl Thomson, of the Whitehouse Consultancy, a parliamentary affairs agency, was equally clear about the importance of addressing swing voters. "I suspect we will see him turning down the invitation to join the unions' anti-cuts rally and to condemn any strike action," he said.
"In terms of strategy, he has to get back the two million people who voted Liberal Democrat because of the Iraq war, the 10 to 15 per cent who voted BNP in Labour's heartland and those who have switched to the Scottish and Welsh nationalists in the last decade. Once he has secured that base he needs to reach out to the aspirational middle classes."
Others advised that Mr Miliband would be wrong to draw up a radical programme. "He needs to come across as a reasonable bloke," said Robert Bean, founder of the Northstar Partners consultancy.
"He has got time on his side, and doesn't need to launch some new 'ism or schism', which I think would be out of touch with what the public are looking for now. They want to feel that someone reasonable is in charge."
Mr Thomson warned that some mistakes in strategy had already been made. "It was very damaging to him that he received fewer votes among MPs and party members than his brother," he said.
"Being filmed walking alone was an error. He would have looked more like a leader if he was surrounded by advisers. He needs to be presented as a well-rounded personality and to correct the perception that he is a bit geeky."Reuse content