By politics.co.uk staff
Labour is at risk of "retoxifying" its brand unless it makes significant changes to the way it is seen by the public, a leading Labour figure has said.
Peter Watt, former general secretary of the party, used David Cameron's terminology to warn that the party was ignoring its problems because of its high poll ratings.
Writing for Labour Uncut, Mr Watt said that the Conservative leader's failure to secure a majority could be explained by his inability to complete the "detoxification" of the Tory brand - a term Mr Cameron used to explain his attempts to wipe away its image as the 'nasty party'.
But Labour has fundamental image problems of its own which it is not addressing due to rising poll results and the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election win, Mr Watt argued.
"We lost the general election because we were seen as being arrogant and out of touch," he wrote.
"We lost because we were seen as being economically illiterate and having massively overspent. And we lost because we were seen as being in favour of top down big government.
"If we are to win the next election, we clearly need to detoxify our own brand. However, it is not clear that we have as yet fully appreciated just how toxic and unpopular we had become.
"The recent travails of the government, our riding high in the polls and by-election wins have masked this. In reality, not much has changed that will fundamentally begin our necessary brand detoxification. What has happened, of course, is that internally we have convinced ourselves that we are becoming popular. The odd apology here or there and we will be ok."
Labour needs to do more to prove that it is not economically illiterate and obsessed with overspending, the former general secretary said.
"Far from detoxifying, we currently risk retoxifying," he added.
"Ed Balls has done a great job of challenging the government over the pace of deficit reduction. But we are still opposing every cut, every library closure, every reduction in police numbers and every job loss.
"It might make us feel better and win some short term popularity. But it isn't an answer to the charge that we had become economically illiterate and had allowed massive overspending."
Ed Miliband's team have recently attempted to challenge the argument that Labour was economically irresponsible head-on, by stressing the international nature of the economic crisis and highlighting improved economic growth when Labour's policies were still in place.
As discontent grows with the coalition's cuts agenda, Labour's poll showing continues to improve. But some analysts warn that poll leads based on negative feelings towards the government are superficial and unreliable.