Ed Miliband has been warned that Labour will not win next May’s general election unless he spells out detailed spending cuts to win the trust of voters on the economy.
The move comes amid tension in the Shadow Cabinet over Labour’s policy on the deficit, during what one senior frontbencher said yesterday was “squeaky bum time” for the party.
There are said to be differences between Mr Miliband and Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, over how much detail Labour should provide before the election about the cuts it would make if it wins power.
Writing for The Independent’s website, Patrick Diamond, a former policy adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said: “The party must address its perceived lack of economic credibility.”
He warned there was “greater urgency” for Labour to win more support in the south of England to counterbalance its 41 seats in Scotland under threat from the Scottish National Party.
Mr Diamond warned that Mr Miliband’s flagship campaign on the “cost of living crisis” could appear negative to voters in prosperous areas.
“A narrative of unremitting economic gloom will produce limited gains for Labour,” he said. “Labour cannot construct an electoral majority only by appealing to those hardest hit since the crisis.”
In pictures: Rochester by-election
In pictures: Rochester by-election
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Counting gets under way for the Rochester and Strood constituency by-election held at Medway Park, Gillingham, Kent
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Nigel Farage and members of the UKIP team celebrate after Mark Reckless won the Rochester and Strood by-election at Medway Park, Gillingham near Rochester, Kent
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Howling Laud Hope, leader of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party (R) awaits for the by election results in Medway, Gillingham Rochester, Kent
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Kelly Tolhurst, the Conservative Party's candidate in the Rochester's by-election, walks down the town's high street on polling day, in southern England
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Gulpreet Baines (18) sets fire to a United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) rosette, on polling day in Rochester's by-election
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Naushabah Khan, Labour Candidate for the Rochester and Strood by-election is joined by shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher in Rochester on the final day of campaigning ahead of by-election
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UKIP supporter Graham Harper and his dog Roquie carry a electoral poster supporting UK Independence Party (UKIP) parliamentary candidate Mark Reckless in Rochester, Kent ahead of the by-election poll
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A customer poll of sweets purchased in favour of the party's contesting the Rochester and Strood by-elecction on display in the Sweet Expectations Sweet Shop in Rochester, Kent, on the final day of campaigning before the by-election later this week
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David Cameron and Conservative Party candidate for Rochester and Strood, Kelly Tolhurst, talk to Mick Parks, Workshop Foreman at MCL Mechanical near Rochester, Kent, southern England, during a visit ahead of the by-election
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People stand holding placards against the Britain First party who held a march in Rochester, southeastern England
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Britain First march through Rochester
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UKIP parliamentary candidate Mark Reckless campaigns in Rochester on November 4, 2014
Rob Stothard/Getty Images
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Ed Miliband campaigns with Yvette Cooper (left) and Naushabah Khan before the Rochester and Strood by-election
Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images
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The Britain First march was met by vociferous counter protest
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A UKIP office in Rochester. Rochester and Strood will hold a by-election on November 20th following the defection of Conservative Party Member of Parliament, Mark Reckless to UKIP
Rob Stothard/Getty Images
He said Labour faced an “existential” task to show it could create a more equal society without higher public spending.
It should “switch spending” from family benefits to childcare and redraw the boundaries of the state, he added.
Some Shadow Cabinet members believe Labour’s stance on the deficit gives it “the worst of all worlds”.
Although the party has pledged to balance the nation’s books by 2020, internal critics say it gets little credit for this from the voters because it has not spelt out how it would be achieved – and is still open to the Tory charge that it would increase borrowing.
At the same time, Labour has left itself room to spend an estimated £28bn more than the Conservatives by eliminating the deficit more slowly than they would. But critics say it has not reaped any political benefit because it has not said how it would use the money.
Some shadow ministers were disappointed that Mr Miliband made only a passing reference to the deficit in his “fightback speech” last Thursday after he saw off an attempt to oust him by some backbenchers.
Yesterday, a ComRes survey for The Independent on Sunday brought Labour some relief, showing the party on 34 per cent, four points ahead of the Tories (30 per cent).
Allies of Mr Miliband and Mr Balls blame each other for the lack of clarity over how Labour would reduce the deficit. But yesterday Labour officials insisted there was “no disagreement” between the two men and that the party’s spending plans would be spelt out before the election.
In the next few months, the shadow Chancellor will publish some findings from his “zero-based” review of public spending, which will say how the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Communities Department would cope with post-election cuts. The aim is to show Labour is thinking seriously about how to make savings.
Meanwhile Sadiq Khan, shadow minister for London, yesterday drew on a football analogy to describe the tight election race. “There’s a great Alex Ferguson saying… where in a season when Man United and Newcastle were neck and neck, he said it’s squeaky bum time. And I think it’s squeaky bum time for Labour,” he told The Guardian.Reuse content