Labour grandees warn Miliband to be more than 'voice of protest'

  • @andymcsmith

Three former Cabinet ministers urged Ed Miliband not to turn Labour into a party of protest today, amid growing concern among Blairites about the direction of his leadership.

John Reid, Tessa Jowell and David Blunkett became the latest party grandees to speak out after Tony Blair warned last week that Mr Miliband is leaving the centre ground of politics in the misguided belief that public opinion has shifted to the left.

Asked by the BBC's Sunday Politics programme what evidence there was of a leftward shift in voter sentiment, Lord Reid, the former Home Secretary, said: "You'll have to ask Ed Miliband that. I don't think that the centre ground is necessarily moving left."

His comments follow an article by Mr Blair in the centenary edition of the New Statesman which warned the party not to fall back on its "comfort zone." It was the former Prime Minister's first intervention in internal party affairs since he left office in 2007, but Lord Reid denied that his warning amounted to a criticism of Mr Miliband's leadership. "It's advice and that's what colleagues do," he said.

But Lord Reid added: "You have to move from being a voice of protest to offering solutions as you move from being an effective opposition to a potential government. What he [Mr Miliband] now has to do is to set out the direction of a future Labour government on questions like welfare, on the economy on housing and so on. There are some signs that that is beginning to happen.

"The next two years will tell whether the second important stage has been fulfilled and that is becoming a potential government with answers and solutions, not just a critique of the status quo and the present Government."

Dame Tessa Jowell, another Blair loyalist and a former Culture Secretary, said that Labour should welcome Mr Blair's return. She told Sky News: "I think that he has a lot to give to British politics, he's got a lot to give to the Labour Party, and this goes to the central question of this discussion, which is how do parties manage the relationship with their former leaders. And if it is simply a kind of combustible relationship where any intervention by, in our case, Tony Blair is seen as unwelcome, unhelpful and all the rest of it, then I think that is destructive. If you take someone like Bill Clinton's position in relation to the Democratic Party, he is a kind of honoured, experienced older statesman that still has value and currency."

She was speaking after another former Labour Home Secretary, David Blunkett, writing on the The Observer website, also warned that Mr Miliband's vision of a "One Nation" Labour Party might be too narrow. "It has to be about a great deal more than politics built on grievance and the unhappiness of a resentful and selfish public sphere," he wrote.

Their comments were quickly seized on by the Conservative party chairman, Grant Shapps, who said: "Even former labour cabinet ministers have concluded Ed Miliband provides directionless, weak leadership".

The prospect of Tony Blair making some sort of return to domestic politics after a seven-year self-imposed silence has produced mixed feelings in the Labour Party because of memories of the Iraq War, and because anything he says is liable to be examined minutely for any hint of criticism of his successors.