Ed Miliband plans party shake-up as criticism of his leadership escalates

Lacklustre performance at PMQs stokes anger of party members who voted for him instead of his brother and now regret it

Jane Merrick
Sunday 18 December 2011 01:00 GMT
<p>Ed Miliband is 'in the middle of nowhere', says one former supporter</p>

Ed Miliband is 'in the middle of nowhere', says one former supporter

Ed Miliband is planning a new year shake-up of his internal party structure, as criticism of his faltering leadership escalated last night. The moves come at a difficult end to his first full year as Labour leader, with a performance at Prime Minister's Questions last week that left some members in his party talking openly about a succession unless he improves.

The restructuring will include moving Labour's headquarters, currently half a mile from the House of Commons, closer to Parliament.

Labour sources refused yesterday to release more details of the new property or the wider shake-up, but it is thought that there will be new appointments at senior level, including the prospect of a permanent chief of staff and an elected party chairman.

But, as the Labour leader prepared to spend Christmas at home with his family in Camden, north London, MPs and activists called on him to do more to "cut through" to the public, particularly on the economy.

One activist who campaigned for Mr Miliband's leadership last year said he now regretted the decision, adding that, more than a year on from the victory, the leader stood "in the middle of nowhere".

Tom Scholes-Fogg, a leading Labour blogger who volunteered on Mr Miliband's campaign team and co-edited the book What Next for Labour?, said some grassroots members were "unhappy" and wanted a change of leader.

He told The Independent on Sunday: "When Ed gave his speech to conference in 2010, I was sitting behind him on stage, and I was thinking I have backed the right person to get Labour back into Downing Street. A year on, I do regret backing him. If there was a leadership election with the same five candidates I would now back David Miliband. David is more of a statesman. He would be taking on the Government much more, and laying out his vision for the country and the Labour Party.

"Ed Miliband, on the other hand, is in the middle of nowhere. He said he will fight for the centre ground, but he hasn't identified where that centre ground is. I don't know what he stands for, or where he wants to take the country.

"Ed is very personable, while David was more arrogant and expected the leadership to be handed to him on a plate. But arrogance isn't necessarily a bad thing in politics."

Mr Scholes-Fogg said it felt as if

Labour wasn't taking the deficit seriously and that Mr Miliband should not be opposing every single cut. He added: "Ed has largely been a disaster at PMQs. He did quite well over phone hacking, but it is about being in tune with the public on more than one issue.

"His conference speech in September just wasn't a speech from a leader who wants to be prime minister. There is not very much he can do if he doesn't believe in himself.

"With female voters leaving the Conservatives in droves, the Labour Party should seize on this and perhaps consider a new female leader."

Alison McGovern, Labour MP for Wirral South and Gordon Brown's parliamentary aide, said Mr Miliband had "a lot of hard work to do".

Ms McGovern, who gave birth to a daughter a week ago, has been observing Westminster from her constituency. She said: "Things strike me from a completely different point of view: you don't quite appreciate how difficult it is to get cut-through [to the public]. Ed has done OK with that, but it's a massive challenge. He has been talking about the economy a lot, but he needs to talk about the money in people's pockets a bit more. People are facing pay freezes or are perhaps about to. We need to give people a lot more sense that we are fighting that battle. It is going OK, but he needs to fight a bit harder and be a bit more focused."

A Labour source insisted Mr Miliband was "extremely relaxed" about any murmurings in his party after PMQs on Wednesday, when he was ridiculed by Mr Cameron over his relationship with his brother David. The source claimed Labour's holding of Feltham and Heston in a by-election last Thursday proved there was no crisis facing Mr Miliband's leadership. The 8.6 per cent swing to Labour, if replicated at a general election, would be enough to win a majority, it was claimed. Yet the seat was held on the lowest by-election turnout for 11 years, at 28.8 per cent.

Membership of the party has gone up by 60,000 since he became leader, and there are 850 new Labour councillors, the source said.

Credit worthiness rating: CCC

Currently vulnerable, and is dependent on favourable political conditions in his parliamentary party and his ability to cut through to voters on the economy. Negative outlook, at risk of a default which could lead to the completion of a distressed exchange offer with his brother.

The Prime Minister's role: Cameron dodges the missiles to end on top – just

David Cameron

The Prime Minister, as he prepares to spend Christmas at Chequers, probably cannot believe his luck. A grim economic outlook has forced his Chancellor to overhaul the deficit plans. His veto in Brussels has left Britain isolated in Europe, with each new hour bringing another French politician's ire across the Channel. The phone hacking scandal left Mr Cameron on the back foot over his friendship with Rebekah Brooks and his former director of communications, Andy Coulson. In October, he suffered his worst Commons defeat with a backbench rebellion over Europe.

Yet the year draws to a close with the Tories ahead of Labour in the polls. The gap may be tiny, but it is significant. Mr Cameron benefits, of course, from the same thing that gave Tony Blair his "Teflon" label: a weak opposition leader. But his bravado in Brussels, while alarming the Foreign Office, delighted a broadly Eurosceptic public. This could be a short-term gain, as 2012 brings battles with the right over further distancing from Europe, and high-speed rail, and with the Lib Dems over their "fairness" tax agenda.

Credit rating: AA Very strong capacity to meet his pledges on deficit reduction and keep coalition harmony intact. But he is susceptible to the adverse effects of his Eurosceptic backbenchers and the propensity of Lib Dems in the Cabinet to upset the coalition.

The Deputy Prime Minister's role: A couple of cheers to help him survive the jeers

Nick Clegg

Even surviving to see Christmas as Deputy Prime Minister is an achievement, if some of Nick Clegg's fiercest critics are to be believed. His dreams of electoral reform were shattered; poll ratings hover over single digits and cries of "betrayal" follow him everywhere. No wonder he keeps blubbing at music.

On the plus side, he can be cheered by securing changes to NHS reforms, progress on issues such as gay marriage and the support of his surprisingly loyal troops. Even the motoring difficulty of rival Chris Huhne might have brought a smile to his face.

Yet he remains a figure of fun. On Friday, Private Eye editor Ian Hislop suggested at the British Comedy Awards that Clegg was a contender for best newcomer. The revelation that he has an office rowing machine and wants to rebrand his party like Oxfam didn't help.

In recent days he has exploited his five languages, repairing relations with EU colleagues shocked at Mr Cameron's explosion of Europhobia.

In one of his many gaffes this year, he was caught on mic telling Cameron: "If we keep doing this we won't have anything to bloody disagree on in the bloody TV debates." Now they've got plenty to argue about. He just needs to survive until 2015.

Credit rating: BB Less vulnerable in the near term but faces uncertainties, and prolonged exposure to Tory policies could lead to an inadequate capacity to meet his grassroots members' demands.

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