Miliband sets out vision for Labour
Labour have moved into a two-point opinion poll lead as Ed Miliband sought to quash murmurs about his leadership by outlining policy and party review plans to his MPs and peers.
On his return from two weeks' paternity leave, he set out plans for a policy review which will start with a "blank sheet" on many key issues as well as a fundamental shake-up of the party itself.
Despite another encouraging poll - ICM for the Guardian putting Labour at a three-year high of 38% - he warned it faced a "long haul" to get back into power.
More details are to be unveiled at a high-level party event in Gillingham, Kent, at the weekend, but the influence of trade unions is among areas under review. Shadow cabinet ministers will be asked to lead working groups including outside experts in their relevant fields as part of the policy review.
Mr Miliband's spokeswoman insisted that there was no dissent among those present at the behind-closed-doors gathering in the Commons. Questions about party unity were revived, however, when shadow chancellor Alan Johnson again refused to publicly endorse the leader's call for a permanent 50p tax rate for high earners.
The Labour leader had declared in a newspaper article that it was "about values and fairness and about the kind of society you believe in and it's important to me". But Mr Johnson repeated his view that the measure was needed because of the deficit - and slipped up by calling the leader "Red" instead of "Ed" on television in the process.
In what was said by party sources to have been one of the best-received passages of his address to the PLP, Mr Miliband said: "You see the Tories and the Liberal Democrats doing terrible things and it is frustrating. But opposition is about the long-haul and digging in."
He said rising membership levels and good local by-election results meant Labour should be "optimistic but not complacent" about the future. Initial campaigning should centre on the debate over proving the coalition's deficit reduction strategy is "a gamble" and on the row over tuition fees, he said.
The poll gave Labour its highest rating since Gordon Brown abandoned plans for an early general election in October 2007, gaining two points to 38%. The Conservatives fell three to 36% and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners dropped two to 14% - most of those lost voters switching to smaller parties though, not Labour.
The Tories sought to capitalise further on disagreements between Mr Miliband and Mr Johnson over key tax policies. Deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Michael Fallon said: "It is now clear that Ed Miliband has no authority over his shadow cabinet."