Plot to sack Ed Miliband? There never was one

Some Labour MPs are concerned about the state of the party but that's not the same as a coup to sack the leader

Nick Ansell/PA Wire Labour leader Ed Miliband
Labour leader Ed Miliband

There never was a real possibility that Labour would sack Ed Miliband as Labour leader.

But it’s true that some Labour MPs are pessimistic about the party’s chances in the General Election on May 7 next year, and feel their leader is doing a poor job.

Even MPs loyal to Mr Miliband will admit that the party is struggling to explain what type of country it wants Britain to be.

The individual policies are there - freezing energy bills, raising the minimum wage and so on - but Mr Miliband and his team have struggled to join them all together and create a big picture to present to voters.

However, there’s a world of difference between having these concerns and launching a serious campaign to get the leader of the party out.

With less than seven months to go before polling day, there’s no way that any party would want to go launch a divisive putsch against its leader and hold a contest to elect a new one.

There’s only six weeks to go until Christmas. And once everything gets underway again in January, the parties will be start kicking into election gear.

It’s just not enough time for a leadership contest, even if Labour was minded to boot out unpopular leaders - which it isn’t.

After all, the party stayed loyal to Gordon Brown when he was an unpopular leader. And in that case, there was a potential alternative leader in the form of James Purnell, the former Work and Pension’s Secretary who quit the Cabinet in 2009 and urged Mr Brown to stand down - only to be abandoned by nervous collaborators.

Gordon Brown ex-Prime Minister attends a pro-union speech in the Labour party's Glasgow HQ in Bath Street.
Gordon Brown ex-Prime Minister attends a pro-union speech in the Labour party's Glasgow HQ in Bath Street.
 

It was also pretty clear that Gordon Brown was set to lose the election, while despite recent polls showing the Tories and Labour neck and neck there’s still a good chance of Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister.

Nobody is going to know all this better than Ian Austin, the Labour MP for Dudley, who was reported as being one of two Labour MPs warning that Mr Miliband must resign if the party hopes to win the next election.

The other was Greater Manchester MP Simon Danczuk. They are said to have told Merseyside MP David Watts, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, that they want Mr Miliband to go.

Mr Austin is a former Labour party press officer who went on to become a special adviser to Gordon Brown, back when Mr Brown was Chancellor, and became an MP in 2005.

He was there during the battles between Mr Brown and Tony Blair which, if anything, appear to have been even more destructive than the media believed at the time - and to have centred largely on the question of when Mr Blair planned to stand down and make way for his colleague.

Mr Austin was also there when Mr Brown had his own leadership woes as Prime Minister.

If there’s anyone who knows how difficult it is to unseat a party leader who doesn’t want to go then it’s Ian Austin, even if his experience comes mainly from Labour’s period in office rather than in opposition.

There’s no doubt that he’s unhappy about some things - and in particular, wants a tougher line on immigration.

But there’s a world of difference between these sentiments - and more general complaints that the party’s strategy is failing - and demanding a leadership contest, a distinction that may not have been grasped by everyone.

As The Journal has reported, Labour MPs in the North East have backed Ed Miliband.

Simon Hobson Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead
Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead
 

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns said: “Nobody has spoken to me about a plot to oust Ed. No-one has asked me to support a plot - if there is or was a plot I am completely oblivious to it.”

Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, said: “Ed Miliband has set out a clear vision for how a future Labour Government would help to rebuild this country, and is addressing the everyday, and very real, concerns that people raise with me.”

And Pat Glass, MP for North West Durham, pointed out on Twitter that Conservatives had problems of their own - with two MPs actually quitting he party and joining UKIP.

But there’s no doubt that some Labour MPs are worried that their party is in a weaker position than it should be.

Polls showing voters believe they will be better off under a Conservative government suggest Labour’s focus on the “cost of living” issue is not having results.

Separate polling suggests the party’s vote is near collapse in Scotland.

Some MPs are worried that support for UKIP has grown in traditional Labour areas.

For example, in May’s European elections, UKIP got more votes than Labour or any other party in Middlesbrough, Redcar and Clevland and Stockton-on-Tees, and came a strong second elsewhere (for example, winning 31,045 votes to 43,72 for Labour in Durham County).

And polling does suggest that Mr Miliband has not impressed voters.

The Labour leader has fought back with a hard-hitting speech, claiming: “We’re in a fight, but not because our opponents think we’re destined to lose. We are in a fight because they know we can win.

“And, between now and the election, they are going to use every tactic to try to destabilise, distract us and throw us off course.”

This will chime with the views of some Labour activists who believe criticism of Mr Miliband has been stoked up by opponents - largely “the right wing media” - who feel threatened by him,

Let’s hope for Ed’s sake that he doesn’t believe this himself, because concern within his own party is real. But it doesn’t amount to an attempt to sack him as leader.

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