Miliband denies leadership ambitions

David Miliband, attacking the media for their obsession with “personality stories”, has ruled out his support for a leadership election.

The foreign secretary was speaking at a fringe event in Manchester on the day activists turned against rebel Charles Clarke’s calls for a leadership election.

Mr Miliband said he rejected the claim of disunity in the party and emphasised his support for the prime minister, saying: “The party needs to pull together. We need to pull together behind Gordon’s leadership.”

The audience of Labour supporters for a recording to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme openly criticised journalist Martha Kearney for her questions about recent leadership speculation.

“In the end there are statistics about how politicians are out of touch. But, in the nicest possible way, there are also statistics about what people think of journalism and the media,” he said, to applause.

“The truth is the media haven’t had a story that you want to run with. You want to run with personality stories and actually what you’ve got is a serious, serious political party that knows that being in government is a privilege but that being in government is a chance to change your society and we’re not giving up easily.”

Mr Miliband said he believes British voters expect the Labour party to be focusing on issues that concern them.

But he did admit there were things which could be done to improve the situation, remarks which some journalists have seized on as evidence that the leadership issue is re-opening.

Mr Miliband added: “Our own agenda is. being set by every Cabinet minister who is determined to go out there and say: ‘If you won’t talk up our record, but we will, in an honest way that’s gone wrong as what’s gone right.’

“We’re going to do that in a self-confident way, that is open and inclusive and tries to speak to all the serious issues we’ve raised here.”

Communities secretary Hazel Blears also made similarly supportive comments as she addressed the Progress rally. Likening herself to Labour stalwart and legend Barbara Castle, Ms Blears said: “I’m not going to let those Tories walk back into Downing Street without a fight and this is going to be the fight of our lives so bring it on”.

Ms Blears added it was no good Labour Cabinet members listing the achievements of the government nor talking about Tory government failures.

“We know people cast their vote for a number of reasons,” she said. “But one of the reasons people vote is because of politicians that can empathise with them. In the 1980s we had policies coming out of our ears but we could not connect with the public. In the 1990s we connected with the electorate”.

And in what is possibly a case of revealing what is the worst kept secret in current British politics – the timing of the next general election – she said: “If you talk about Thatcher in the election in 2010 you might as well be talking about Stanley Baldwin”.