Labour leader Ed Miliband is not addressing voters' 'everyday struggles', says former home secretary David Blunkett
Ed Miliband has been warned by the former cabinet minister David Blunkett that his political message is not being heard by the voters, and that the Labour party would not win an election if it were held today.
Blunkett said Miliband had done well over the phone-hacking scandal, but that this had not improved Labour's relationship with the electorate "one iota".
Echoing remarks by other senior figures in the party, including the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, he called for the leader to focus on explaining to the public what Labour did right in power while providing answers to the big questions, including how the country should deal with the economic crisis.
Speaking to the Observer on the eve of the Labour party conference, Blunkett said Labour, which is 4% ahead in the polls, would fail to win a majority in an early election. "I think it would probably be a hung parliament, with Labour having slightly more seats that the Conservatives," he said. "But we have got to get in a position where we are 10, 12, 15 percentage points ahead, because a combination of facing two parties in coalition and the boundary changes and the disillusionment that austerity bring, it doesn't bring revolution."
Blunkett, who voted for Andy Burnham – now shadow education secretary – and then David Miliband in the leadership elections last September, has kept his counsel on Ed Miliband's performance over the last year. But in an intervention likely to cause some discomfort for the Labour leader, Blunkett concurred with Alexander's admission yesterday that the Tories had so far been more successful in "framing a public language that made more sense of the economic crisis".
And while claiming that Miliband had enjoyed a "good year" and shed the Red Ed image, he said the Labour leader's task was all the more difficult because of his lack of an established image among the wider public. "I think if you haven't got a profile and people don't easily recognise you or what you stand for, you have got a long haul," Blunkett said.
He added that the party had not recovered from the four months when Labour was leaderless after Gordon Brown's resignation, during which the coalition was able to blame the country's economic situation on Labour's policies. He said: "Over the last year I think we have recovered a lot of our confidence, Ed Miliband has had a good 12 months since he was elected, but we never recovered from that interregnum where we really didn't have anyone in leadership positions defending Labour's record.
"I think the biggest challenge for Ed is not the decisions he has taken, which on the whole I have agreed entirely with and I think he has handled himself personally very well, but actually getting that hearing with the electorate, getting that foothold on the ladder. That is a very difficult challenge.
"We can throw stones at paper giants and get angry about where power lives, but it is almost irrelevant to people out here in their own lives. This taking on the media giants is a necessary part of politics, and actually Ed Miliband did extremely well in relation to what happened with News International, because he pushed David Cameron into having to take action which he was reluctant to take. But good and important as it was, and necessary in terms of our values and where we stand, it hasn't actually changed our opinion polls one iota.
"The lesson I learned from that is, yes, we should take on sources of power and we should speak for those who don't have a voice, that is what we are in business to do, but we should also recognise that unless what we are saying and doing has a direct relationship to people's everyday struggle, they won't reward us."
Blunkett said he supports Miliband's position on the economy, but spoke of his concerns that the Labour leader is being advised on policy by Lord (Maurice) Glasman, an academic who has made a "Blue Labour" case for more conservative policies on certain social and international issues, such as immigration and crime.
Blunkett said: "About 80% of it, I don't have a problem with because it is old-fashioned communitarianism. About 20% is xenophobia and I don't like it, and it tries to pretend we can resolve these big issues on a local scale and we can't." Blunkett, the MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, added that, while he believed that it was important for Labour to set out how it would promote more cohesive communities, much of what had been set out as Blue Labour was a distraction from more important issues, such as the economy. "It is a necessary, welcome comfort blanket which, whilst it is a part counterweight to people's feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, it doesn't deal with the central issue of how in 2015 onwards we deal with the big sources of power globally."
Miliband had to be seen "absolutely alongside" ordinary people, "physically and in policy terms", he said, as they paid their mortgages and dealt with changes in the job market.