The favourite to succeed Gordon Brown sidestepped claims yesterday he was launching a leadership bid and said he was convinced the prime minister could win the next election.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband, a youthful figure at the centre of the party, sparked talk of a leadership challenge by saying Labour needed a “radical new phase” to claw back a 20 point deficit to the Conservatives in opinion polls.
Miliband later said that the only thing he was campaigning for was a successful Labour government, but repeatedly refused to rule himself out of a leadership contest.
“Can Gordon lead us into the next election and win? Yes, I’m absolutely sure of that,” Miliband said.
In an article in The Guardian Miliband acknowledged Labour had made mistakes during eleven years in power and said change was needed to overcome a stalled economy and mount a challenge at the next election, due by May 2010.
“To get our message across, we must be more humble about our shortcomings but more compelling about our achievements,” wrote Miliband, 43.
“New Labour won three elections by offering real change, not just in policy but in the way we do politics. We must do so again.”
The timing of the article, as much as its substance, led political commentators and newspaper editors to interpret it as laying the ground for a possible challenge to Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair little over a year ago.
An aide to Brown described the leadership talk as “midsummer madness” and said it would settle down in the coming months.
Labour’s poll ratings have fallen to historic lows of around 25 per cent as the impact of the global credit crisis and Brown’s perceived mishandling of policy have hit its popularity
The loss of a once-safe Labour seat in a by-election in Glasgow East last week has compounded Brown’s woes.