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Top Labour figures warn Miliband

Labour figures have warned the party lacks "vision and a sense of direction" and the movement risks "dying" without bolder action, heaping pressure on Ed Miliband after he was forced publicly to deny reports of a plot to oust him.

Mr Miliband dismissed as "nonsense" reports that backbenchers were preparing to call for him to fall on his sword, insisting the party was focused "on the country and the things that matter to the country".

Former cabinet minister David Blunkett sought to calm the atmosphere, calling for an end to "this bout of political insanity".

"When you are standing on the edge of a cliff it is unwise to believe that by jumping you will suddenly learn to fly," he told The Guardian.

"If anyone thought that a leadership election concluding in January following a continuing bout of blood-letting would do anything to improve our prospects - I suggest they take an emergency course in citizenship politics."

But Lord Soley, who as an MP chaired the parliamentary party, issued a bleak vision of the party's general election prospects and suggested Mr Miliband should take a less prominent role as he was not seen by voters as a "charismatic potential prime minister".

And further evidence of the concerns within the party came with the revelation that shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith told activists the movement was "dying" and that unless it became "much, much more vigorous ... then we are lost".

A poll, by YouGov for LBC radio, found that nearly half (49%) of people surveyed believed Labour's chances of returning to power would be improved if Mr Miliband was replaced.

His leadership was also savaged by the New Statesman, the left-wing magazine that backed him for the top job in 2010, which branded him an "old-style Hampstead socialist" who does not understand the "lower middle class or material aspiration".

"I don't accept that this matter arises," Mr Miliband said of reports that several backbench MPs had called for him to quit.

Honestly, this is nonsense. Our focus and the Labour Party's focus is on the country and is going to remain on the country because there are huge issues that our country faces."

Lord Soley said he had not heard Labour MPs calling for Mr Miliband to go but used an article in The Guardian to set out concerns.

"The problem is not so much individual policies as the lack of a vision and a sense of direction for the country combined with lack of clear leadership responsibility in the leader's office," he wrote.

"Who is in control and directing the strategy and ensuring everyone (including Ed) follow that? The media leadership is crucial and needs to put up front our best communicators - that is vital.

"The 'team' has to be promoted because, as Ed acknowledges, he is not seen as a charismatic potential Prime Minister. So 'Team Labour ' has to take a much higher profile because of that. And that requires a media strategy and a policy promotion strategy designed to create that sense of vision."

He added: "Waiting for the Tories to lose is a seriously bad option.

"They could yet turn things round - they have a survival instinct and even if we won on the basis that the Tory divisions were too great for them to win it still leaves an uncomfortable feeling that a Labour government would not have a sense of direction."

A win in those circumstances would almost certainly result in a "minority government struggling to survive", he suggested.

"There is a vision for a better Britain - it does need to be articulated clearly and simply piling up lots of individual policies doesn't do it. Governments without vision tend to drift and be at the mercy of events."

The peer said the party should be "outspoken and unequivocal in our support for the EU" but promise benefit reforms to tackle the Ukip threat and "make a virtue of skilled Labour" by "hotting up" the message on apprenticeships.

Mr Smith dismissed what he called "mischief-making tittle tattle" after a recording was published of his contribution to a recent conference organised by the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) think-tank.

"Unless we are much, much more vigorous, then we will not attract a new generation of people to fight in this country and if we don't do that then we are lost," he was heard to say.

He said a fellow panellist's warning that "as a movement we're in danger of dying and we need to turn it around" was "absolutely right".

A Labour spokesman said it had been " a humorous dig at the age of the people attending the fringe meeting and not a comment on the Labour movement".

In a post on the Labour List website, Mr Smith wrote: "As a party we will stay united in the face of this criticism and have courage in our convictions.

"The next general election will be the most important for a generation. We will deliver on our obligations to the people that we got into politics to serve by not losing focus or wobbling in the face of media spin."

YouGov surveyed 2,041 people online from November 5-6.

One of Labour's biggest individual donors, JML founder John Mills, rallied behind the leader.

"I think what the Labour Party needs to do is rally behind its leader, get out and start canvassing and work towards winning the next general election in 2015, not to get involved in internecine fighting like this," he told BBC2's Newsnight.

"A week's a long time in politics, things come and go, my experience of Ed Miliband, I've heard him speak on many occasions, is he's very fluent, he's very uplifting, I think he's got a wide measure of support.

"I don't think it's true that Ed Miliband has been bad at picking on the right issues, I think he's been rather good at it."

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