Labour says party is united after Ed Miliband faces call to stand down from backbench MPs

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Less than 24 hours after Ed Miliband conducted a mini reshuffle of his shadow cabinet the Labour leader has been urged to stand down, according to the BBC.

Two backbenchers have told Dave Watts, chairman of the parliamentary Labour party, Miliband should step aside.

The Labour leader, who has been on the receiving end of a barrage of media criticism, was subjected to blunt questioning over his leaderhip by MPs from the
North West this week.

One Labour MP told the BBC's Ross Hawkins:

People were openly saying the leadership is failing this, and we've got a problem winning seats in May.

However, there has been no suggestion as yet that there has been an organised attempt to remove the Labour leader. A Labour source responded to claims of a divided party saying:

We have spent four years being united as a party in a determination to be a one-term opposition. We're not going to be distracted by noises-off now.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls came to Miliband's defence, telling Sky News:

It's the Conservative Party which are riven and divided and defecting left, right and centre. We will focus on Tory division, Labour will stay united.

Miliband whose approval ratings have plummeted to levels previously reserved for the beleaguered Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg had hoped to use a regional visit today to take on the mounting criticism of his leadership.

After a lacklustre party conference where Miliband was roundly mocked for forgetting to mention the deficit and the resignation of Johann Lamont as leader of Scottish Labour, the mood among Labour MPs is dire.

The party's so-called 35 per cent strategy, where Labour hopes to use its inbuilt electoral advantage, core vote supporters and Lib Dem defectors to secure victory next year appears to have run into serious difficulty.

Labour is polling neck and neck with the Tories while the SNP in Scotland and the Greens in England eat into their share of the vote. Last night, Miliband moved his ally Michael Dugher to shadow international development secretary and promoted Lucy Powell to the shadow cabinet.

Powell was instrumental in getting Miliband elected as Labour leader and will be responsible for party operations until the general election. She told the BBC:

I am going to make sure we put out the very best of our talents and communicate the very strong message that we have got going into the next election and unblock the system so our operation is serving all of those fantastic candidates, our fantastic front bench and our leader.

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