Andrew Grice: For a man who won the leadership, he seems remarkably short of friends

Even some of the trade union allies who ensured his narrow victory over his brother are becoming restless
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The Independent Online

It was an avalanche waiting to happen. Yesterday Ed Miliband woke up to a mountain of newspaper headlines that could have been from his worst nightmare. "Brothers at war," said The Independent on Sunday, suggesting that David was waiting for his brother to fail so he could revive his leadership bid. "War of the Milibands," declared the The Mail on Sunday, which is serialising a new book on the Labour leader. "Labour big beasts maul Ed Miliband," reported The Sunday Times.

Hard evidence of plotting against a leader who has only been in post for eight months was difficult to find. But the headlines accurately reflected the growing frustration in the Labour Party about the apparent lack of direction and progress under its new standard-bearer.

For a man who won the leadership contest, Ed Miliband appears remarkably without friends. Even some of the trade union allies who ensured his narrow victory over his brother are becoming restless. The Shadow Cabinet may profess loyalty but sometimes looks like a group of politicians ploughing their own furrow rather than playing as a team.

Labour MPs have grumbling since the turn of the year but recent events have propelled it on to the front pages. Last week, the ghosts of New Labour returned to haunt Ed Miliband. In the paperback version of his memoirs, Tony Blair urged him not to allow the party to drift to the left. Then leaked private papers belonging to Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, revealed details of Gordon Brown's campaign to prise Mr Blair out of Downing Street. A badly-timed weak performance by Ed Miliband at Prime Minister's Questions fuelled the backbench muttering. Then a version of the speech David Miliband would have made if he had won the leadership was mischievously leaked on the eve of yesterday's serialisation of the book charting how the brothers' relationship is still under great strain.

Ironically, inside Ed Miliband's inner circle, the mood has become more positive recently. His aides were more gloomy at the start of the year after he made little progress in his first 100 days. They are much more upbeat now because they have a detailed blueprint to win in 2015. The only trouble is that, in a 24/7 media age in which politics is conducted at a frenetic pace, Team Ed has been slow to share the plan with the rest of us. It may now have to do so from a position of weakness.

Ed Miliband is unrepentant. Before planting policy signposts, as he will start to do in a speech today, he believed the party first needed to show humility about its disastrous 29 per cent share of the vote in last year's general election and listen to voters to learn how it became out of touch on issues such as the economy, welfare and immigration. Labour would not be credible, he judged, if it claimed it knew all the answers so soon after such a crushing defeat.

Mr Miliband knew the avalanche was coming. Some aides thought it would be much worse. They detect a silver lining: at least voters are watching as the policy offensive starts.

The danger is that the negative speculation of recent days, whipped up by a largely hostile press, will become the self-fulfilling story of Ed Miliband's leadership, overshadowing what his critics demand – a forward-looking vision and some policy benchmarks.

Despite yesterday's headlines, the chances are that Ed Miliband will lead Labour into the next election. Unlike the Tories and Liberal Democrats, Labour doesn't assassinate its leaders.

"The fear is that he will just do well enough to survive without doing badly enough for us to get rid of him," said one normally loyal shadow cabinet minister. With friends like that, you can imagine what Ed Miliband's enemies are saying.