Ed Miliband’s leadership was plunged into crisis last night as Labour MPs moved to oust him.
Backbenchers horrified by a slump in the polls have told the chairman of the parliamentary party they want Mr Miliband out before the General Election.
Following a meeting of North West MPs on the eve of Bonfire Night, members of the Shadow Cabinet are being urged to move against the leader and save Labour from a humiliating defeat in May.
Under siege:Ed Miliband’s exhausted expression yesterday – the bags under his eyes show the pressure is starting to tell on him
Face-off: Andy Burnham, left, has union backing, while Yvette Cooper, right, is the bookies' favourits
Several leading frontbenchers are understood to be privately discussing his leadership and only Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls leapt to Mr Miliband’s defence in public yesterday.
One Shadow Cabinet source said: ‘There are people around the leader still saying that all we need is to show the public the “real Ed” and everything will be all right. With respect, that idea has been tested to destruction – people have seen him and they don’t like him. The result is they’re not listening to us and we’ve only got six months to go.’
Mr Miliband was forced to deny last night that he faced a plot, describing reports as ‘nonsense’. He said the question of his leadership ‘does not arise’. But he has been rocked by a series of recent setbacks:
- Labour support has slumped to just 29 per cent and Mr Miliband is even more unpopular than Nick Clegg;
- Disaster was only narrowly averted in the Heywood and Middleton by-election, a supposedly safe seat where Labour haemorrhaged votes to Ukip;
- Polls show the party faces a wipeout in Scotland next year, with the potential loss of more than 30 seats to the SNP;
- Anger is still simmering over Mr Miliband’s disastrous speech at September’s party conference in which he forgot to mention the deficit and migration;
- A bungled reshuffle saw key Miliband allies promoted at the expense of big hitters such as Alan Johnson, causing a further rift in the ranks;
- New Statesman magazine launched a devastating attack, calling Mr Miliband an ‘old-style Hampstead socialist’ and a ‘quasi-Marxist’.
Analysis of IpsosMORI polling dating back to 1977 by MailOnline shows how only Michael Foot had worse personal satisfaction ratings than Ed Miliband six months before a general election
Only a quarter of voters say they are satisfied with Mr Miliband as Labour leader, with almost two thirds dissatisfied
One rebel MP told the Daily Mail: ‘I want him out – he’s an absolute disaster who is going to cost us the election. Almost anyone would do better for us. The momentum has been gathering in the last 48 hours – people are coming together now and being more explicit about their concerns.
'There are a hell of a lot of people who are unhappy – this is not just the usual suspects, it includes people in the Shadow Cabinet. But we need them to act now.’
Desperate: Mr Miliband, pictured on Thursday night, dismissed suggestions that his leadership was being called into question
Another senior MP said: ‘We are in a desperate situation. We’re six months out from an election and we’re polling 29 per cent – the same as Gordon Brown. There are a lot of people who now think we should get rid of the leader. Of course it’s late, but it’s hard to see how it could make it worse.’
Mr Brown’s former spin doctor Damian McBride said: ‘He can’t do much about the fact he comes from Hampstead but he can do something about the fact that he’s constantly acting as though life revolves around what goes on in Hampstead.’
Mr Miliband, challenged over the criticism while visiting Northampton yesterday, dismissed suggestions that his leadership was being called into question, saying: ‘This is nonsense. My focus, the Labour Party’s focus, is on the country and the things that matter to the country. That’s the cost-of-living crisis, it’s the NHS, it’s the prospects for the next generation.’ Asked about threats to his leadership, he replied: ‘I don’t accept that this matter arises.’
Former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett last night accused rebels briefing against Mr Miliband of a ‘bout of political insanity’ that would wreck hopes of an election win. But Lord Soley, a former chairman of the parliamentary party, admitted it was a ‘serious’ crisis.
The party leadership believes the plot will fizzle out – partly because the plotters lack organisation and partly because they are not agreed on an alternative candidate. However, several Shadow Cabinet members are thought to be pondering whether the benefits of ditching Mr Miliband outweigh the risks.
A YouGov poll for LBC Radio last night found that 49 per cent of voters believe Labour would be more likely to win the election with a different leader.
Disillusioned and desperate, how a group of furious MPs decided the time had come to throw their leader overboard
It was the night when frustration over Ed Miliband’s leadership spilled over.
What should have been a routine meeting of Northern Labour MPs in a House of Commons committee room on Tuesday evening to discuss election tactics swiftly turned into an inquest on where the party is going wrong.
For some of those present that night, there is only one sure way to reverse Labour’s disturbing poll ratings: throw their leader overboard.
The gathering of 30 or so North West based MPs – on the eve of the Guy Fawkes night – was chaired by the Blairite veteran and former Cabinet minister Hazel Blears, who has been sidelined by party high command since the election defeat of 2010.
PR disasters: Miliband attempts to eat a bacon sandwich and sports a 'This is what a feminist looks like' T-shirt
But it took place against a backdrop of the recent Heywood and Middleton by election in Greater Manchester where Labour hung on to a supposedly safe seat by a thread after a surge in support for Nigel Farage’s Ukip.
MPs warned on Tuesday that this could be repeated across the region next year and said the party is heading for defeat in key marginals such as Rossendale and Darwen and Bury North.
String of PR disasters
One recent national analysis has showed Mr Miliband has managed to lose four points from what was supposed to be the ‘rock bottom’ Labour vote secured by Gordon Brown in 2010.
A string of highly public PR disasters – including an inelegant attempt to eat a bacon sandwich, the sporting of a ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt and his meeting with a Romanian beggar – haven’t helped.
But serious complaints of some at the meeting also included Labour’s disastrous position in Scotland.
Incredibly, David Cameron is now more popular in Scotland than the Labour leader, and pollsters say the party is on course to lose 20 or more seats to the SNP – a shattering blow to its hopes of regaining power.
The suave Andy Burnham
One significant absentee from the meeting was a North West-based MP whose star is very much in the ascendant: Labour health spokesman and member for Leigh, Andy Burnham.
The suave Mr Burnham, who had an unsuccessful tilt at the leadership in 2010, energised Labour’s lacklustre conference in Manchester in September with a shamelessly populist speech about the National Health Service.
Crucially, his energetic performance came less than 24 hours after Mr Miliband’s dismal leader’s speech in which he infamously ‘forgot’ to even mention Britain’s budget deficit or immigration. Mr Burnham – a key figure for those dreaming of Mr Miliband’s removal – rubbed salt in the wound the next day with a tub-thumping performance that delighted the party faithful.
The former Blairite, who happily signed off deals involving the private sector in the NHS during his time in charge of the Department of Health, has won cheers from unions for promising a boycott on any further such arrangements and emotional attacks on the Tories’ ‘selling off’ of the health service.
So even though Mr Burnham was absent, his name was in many MPs’ thoughts as a possible alternative.
On Tuesday, a string of discontented backbenchers – who already include Rochdale’s Simon Danzcuk, Blackley and Broughton’s Graham Stringer and Birkenhead’s Frank Field – made their feelings plain.
One man they have also spoken to is David Watts, the member for St Helens on Merseyside, who is also chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Mr Watts, a loyalist who rarely attracts headlines, is now believed to have ‘taken soundings’ over the leadership and is acting as a conduit for disgruntled MPs.
Next in line? Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, pictured with Mr Miliband, is the bookies' favourite
On Wednesday – Bonfire Night – one MP even claimed Mr Watts and Mr Miliband were seen having a stand-up row in Parliament this week, something denied by both parties. But at least two MPs are believed to have told Mr Watts they wanted Mr Miliband out.
On the very same evening, the house journal of the Left, the New Statesman, devoted its front cover and several inside pages to analysis of Mr Miliband’s travails . Its editorial even branded him a ‘old-style Hampstead socialist’ and ‘quasi Marxist’.
As this was digested by the Westminster class, Mr Miliband was in the throes of an emergency reshuffle sparked by the departure of Blairite Shadow cabinet member Jim Murphy to fight for the Scottish Labour leadership.
The botched reshuffle
But even this routine party management exercise only succeeded in enraging his critics further.
Rather than reaching out by promoting Blairite ex-Cabinet minister Lord Adonis or charismatic former postman Alan Johnson, Mr Miliband handed key jobs to two chums – his ex-chief of staff Lucy Powell and hardcore union loyalist Jon Trickett, a former student of his father Ralph. One source on Labour’s ruling NEC was quoted saying: ‘They’re only promoting their friends... This is madness.’
By yesterday morning the BBC had even been briefed that a mini coup was underway and that Mr Miliband would make a statement after lunch. In the end, he did no such thing.
Instead, during a trip to marginal Northampton, he concentrated on discussing local bus regulations and batted off leadership questions, describing them as ‘nonsense’.
The lack of agreement on a contender to replace him – and the occasional political success, such as his pledge last year to freeze energy bills – have so far prevented a full-blown leadership crisis.
But with polls now putting the Conservatives neck and neck with Labour, and showing Mr Miliband is haemorrhaging support on the Left to the Greens and the SNP, he faces his most perilous period since snatching the crown from brother David in 2010.
To the horror of Mr Miliband’s allies, the party’s main financial backer – the all-powerful ‘Red’ Len McCluskey, head of the union Unite, has said it would not matter if the Labour leader fell under a bus.
For good measure, he declared that the frontbencher who most impresses him at present is Mr Burnham.
Even less popular than Nick Clegg
Dismay: Miliband's collapsing personal rating have now sunk lower than those of the unpopular Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, pictured yesterday
Suggestions that Mr Miliband came close to sacking shadow Chancellor Ed Balls this autumn have also infuriated sections of the party - and emboldened supporters of his wife Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, as Mr Miliband’s successor.
Doubts about Mr Miliband now extend far beyond MPs in the North West. Even Shadow Cabinet ministers have expressed private doubts over whether the party can win with him at the helm.
There is widespread dismay at his painful reluctance to discuss spending cuts, welfare reform or immigration – and his collapsing personal ratings, which have now sunk below even those of the unpopular Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. However, while there is no doubt over the depth of unhappiness, there is little sign yet of an organised plot.
Mr Miliband’s fate appears to hinge on whether shadow ministers – some of whom are understood to have met privately to discuss his future – can agree on his fate and engineer a ‘coronation’ rather than a divisive leadership contest with an election only months away.
For Mr Miliband to be forced out, Miss Cooper and Mr Burnham would have to agree he has reached the point of no return – and come to some accommodation about which of them would replace him.
For now, there is no indication of such a deal. But Labour is holding its breath.
The runners who are lining up to replace Ed Miliband...
Ed Miliband’s position is made easier by the fact that none of his potential rivals has declared their hand.
Many MPs want Alan Johnson, the popular former postman, to throw his hat into the ring – saying he has much greater appeal with voters than the awkward Mr Miliband.
But Mr Johnson, who served as Home Secretary under Gordon Brown, has all but ruled himself out, claiming last month that he had ‘no appetite for being on the frontbench’.
His refusal to put himself forward will force any plotters to look elsewhere.
It seems the succession would come down to a face-off between shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary.
The bookies are increasingly throwing their weight behind Mr Burnham, who made a well-received speech on the NHS at September’s Labour conference – in marked contrast to Mr Miliband’s famously poor effort.
It is reported that, emboldened by his conference success, he is already canvassing support; particularly in the North West.
Ladbrokes yesterday cut Mr Burnham’s chances of leading the party from 6/1 into 4/1 to be the next party leader, as more and more political punters back him.
Ruled himself out: Popular former postman Alan Johnson said he had no appetite for the frontbench
The former health secretary has also gained the support of militant union leader Len McCluskey who said last month Mr Burnham is the person who ‘most impresses’ him on the Labour frontbench.
However, Miss Cooper is still favourite to take over if Mr Miliband goes; attracting odds of 7/2. She can at least count on the support of her husband, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who is unlikely to have much chance of victory on his own. Mr Johnson is further down the betting pecking order on 12/1.
If none of these decide to stand, it could be left to younger frontbenchers such as Chuka Umunna (8/1), with Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt outside bets on 16/1.
The man who Labour MPs and party members wanted to be leader – David Miliband – has odds of 20/1. But there is no chance of him taking the reins from his brother because he has stepped down as an MP and moved to the US.
... But the rules mean it is impossible
Party rules say that to force out the leader, a vote of no-confidence has to be called – and the only way for that to happen is a card vote at the party’s annual conference.
No such move was made at the last Labour conference six weeks ago in Manchester and none is scheduled before May’s election.
So it seems that those dissatisfied with Ed Miliband’s leadership have missed their chance to force him out. Their only hope is that the pressure becomes so intolerable that he decides to step down for the good of the party. This could happen if, for example, a large number of MPs say publicly they want him to go. In that case, other candidates would be able to put themselves forward.
To become a candidate, an MP needs the support of 15 per cent of the parliamentary party – or 39 of Labour’s current 257 MPs.
The voting rules in a leadership contest were changed in March to a one member, one vote system for MPs, MEPs, party members and affiliated union members.