Johnson: Time for Miliband to prove himself

By Charles Maggs 

Alan Johnson has launched an unexpected attack on Ed Miliband ahead of next week's conference in Brighton, calling on him to "do more to demonstrate that he is a leader".

Miliband's first choice as shadow chancellor, who resigned after only a few months in the job for personal reasons, used an article for the Guardian to warn that Labour should not be complacent, despite its significant lead in the polls.

He called on Miliband to start setting the tone for the next general election campaign. While it is too early to start outlining a new manifesto there are areas where more detail would be welcome, he argued.

"Explaining how he would separate retail from investment banking, what measures he would take to tackle youth unemployment, and what plans he has to curb the "snouts in the trough" greed of corporate executives would be a start," Johnson wrote.

While accepting that it was right for Labour to offer only limited policy alternatives, he argued that voters were eager for an alternative option to the coalition's cuts.

"The mantra that it's all Labour's fault has been overtaken by the economic ineptitude of the coalition. Ed Miliband now has the chance to show that there is an alternative," Johnson added.

"But there is no use earning the right to be listened to if you have nothing to say."

Opinion polls of late have consistently given Labour a lead of between ten and 15 points.

"The same polls still show David Cameron being preferred as prime minister," Johnson noted.

"While I don't believe that a prime minister who is more popular than his party can deliver an election victory, it does suggest that Ed Miliband has to do more to demonstrate that he is a leader."

Johnson's intervention will come as a surprise to Miliband and his team. The Labour leader's position in charge of his party is arguably more secure than both Nick Clegg and David Cameron – a marked turnaround from the same time last year.