UK's opposition Labour party tells lawmakers to unite after plot whispers

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 07, 2014 3:43 AM

By Andrew Osborn

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's opposition Labour party must "pull together" after reports of a plot against leader Ed Miliband, or risk its chances in the national election next year, the party's campaign coordinator has warned.

The center-left party has a narrow lead over Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives in opinion polls before the May 2015 election. But Miliband's personal rating has sunk to its lowest ever level, raising doubts among supporters about whether he is capable of delivering an outright win.

Newspaper reports on Thursday said unnamed members of Miliband's team feared that lawmakers in his own party were circulating a letter calling for him to resign. Miliband dismissed the reports as "nonsense."

Derided by the media as socially awkward since he assumed the party's leadership in 2010, Miliband, an Oxford-educated career politician, is seen by some in and around his party as an electoral liability rather than an asset.

Douglas Alexander, the party's general election coordinator, called for unity after the plot whispers.

"He (Miliband) has got challenges but all of us have got challenges in every political party and everyone of us in the Labour party has to reflect the reality that divided parties lose elections," Alexander told BBC TV on Thursday night.

"We have got a profound responsibility ... to pull together to offer credible change in the face of these tough economic times and that's exactly what we plan to do."

Several Labour lawmakers toured media studios on Friday morning to defend Miliband, saying his position was safe.

"He's developed a very good policy program on energy, on housing, on jobs and growth and I think he will win the election," Ben Bradshaw, a Labour parliamentarian, told BBC TV.

Labour's internal rules on changing the party's leader are complex and make it a lengthy process. Nor does the party have a tradition, unlike Cameron's Conservatives, of deposing its leaders even if they are perceived to be failing.

In September, Miliband's party conference rallying cry left many activists underwhelmed after he conceded he had forgotten chunks in his speech covering the vital electoral issues of immigration and the budget deficit.

Some Labour lawmakers in seats in northern England have since become nervous about a threat posed by the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) after it came close to beating Labour in a by-election last month.

The disgruntled lawmakers believe Miliband is too London-centric and too focused on academic policy debates rather than engaging with voters' concerns on "doorstep issues" such as immigration.

"He needs to be doing the right thing," John Mann, a Labour lawmaker who has criticized Miliband in the past, told BBC radio. "We do not need more policies ... We need him out and about, literally on the doorstep, listening to people and reflecting on what they are saying."

A poll last week which showed Labour was facing collapse next year in Scotland, one of its traditional heartlands, has caused further alarm. It suggested the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) was siphoning off its support.

The poll results, if repeated next year, suggested Labour could lose 90 percent of its lawmakers in Scotland, making an overall win unlikely in what is expected to be a closely-fought UK-wide election.

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge/Jeremy Gaunt)