Rowena Mason Political correspondent
Friday 8 May 2015 04.11 BST
With shock exit poll suggesting Labour will lose seats, including almost total wipeout in Scotland, party sources are already talking of Harriet Harman as caretaker leader .
Labour politicians have begun openly questioning Ed Miliband’s future as Labourleader as he declared himself “deeply sorry” about the election result.
Former sports minister and ex-MP Gerry Sutcliffe said Miliband will have to consider his position, saying it was “time for someone else to take over”.
Jack Straw, the Labour ex-home secretary, also said it would be up to Miliband to think about his future as leader of the party.
Given the likely scale of Labour’s loss, it is now highly probable that Miliband will resign. However, there is an internal debate within the party about whether it would be better for him to stay on until a new leader is chosen without the process being rushed.
The Miliband camp believed he had run a strong, tight campaign with few gaffes that apparently kept his Labour party neck-and-neck with the Conservatives in the opinion polls.
But in the early hours of Friday, recriminations began once it seemed clear that Labour has not obtained the result it wanted, with particular focus on what went wrong in Scotland and why the collapse of the party’s support there was not noticed and stemmed sooner.
A Labour HQ source has already told the New Statesman: “Ed has to resign tomorrow. Everyone here accepts that.”
Labour sources said one of the factors affecting whether Miliband would resign was the possibility of a second election. Senior party figures agonise over whether there would be time to get a new leader in place if there was another contest soon.
But the temptation would be to replace him if a second election were to take place in more than a year’s time. Possible candidates include the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, the shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, the shadow justice minister, Dan Jarvis, the shadow health minister, Liz Kendall, and the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna.
The big choice facing the Labour party in the event of a leadership contest would be whether to continue with Miliband’s positioning on the left with a candidate like Burnham or swing back towards a more Blairite centre-ground with someone like the pro-business Umunna.
In the first few hours after the polls closed, most senior Labour figures were loyally sticking to the script that Miliband could still be prime minister if Cameron fell even slightly short of a majority.
Ed Balls, Alastair Campbell, Cooper and others all attempted to shore up Miliband’s position as they took to the airwaves to caution against declaring a victory for Cameron before it was certain that he could command a majority in the House of Commons.
One of those going out to bat for the Labour leader was Dame Tessa Jowell, who said it was “not the moment” to replace him. “You cannot lay all of this on Ed Miliband,” she added.
But some Labour figures began to cast doubt on Miliband’s future as the picture of Conservative advances became clearer. Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor, acknowledged on LBC radio that the Tories holding the marginal seat of Nuneaton suggested the end of his leadership.
Asked about the likelihood of Cameron returning to Downing Street, he said: “I think it is worse than that. I think we are seriously looking at the exit poll being on the money and potentially having the end of Ed Miliband.” He also suggested Kendall would be one of the first to break ranks and call for Miliband to go, putting herself forward as a possible contender.
The first MP to criticise the Labour leadership openly was John Mann, who said of the result that Miliband’s team had been “warned repeatedly – those who even bothered to meet, that is”. He tweeted: “In 1983 immediately after election I wrote ‘the left that listens is the left that wins’. It remains true today.”
Neither was there a resounding endorsement from Labour former home secretary Jack Straw, who told Sky News it was “up to Mr Miliband to decide his own future”, after describing the results as a “pretty depressing situation”.
Peter Mandelson was less blunt about the party’s prospects earlier in the evening, but said it was “very difficult indeed” to see Miliband in No 10 if the BBC exit poll numbers were right, which showed the party on 239 seats – well behind the Tories on 316.
The Labour peer and former Downing Street adviser said Miliband had done a “magnificent job” during the campaign and he would not want to see him resign. However, he sidestepped questions about whether he would like to see another election if Cameron returned as prime minister of a minority government.
The former home secretary David Blunkett told the same programme that people should not rush to judgment about Miliband’s future, but did not give him any clear backing. Asked whether he thought the Labour leader should go, he said: “Nobody’s answered that question and I’m not going to either. We need to see the reality on the ground.”
He added: “Somebody was earlier predicting that Ed Miliband will have gone within 24 hours. I hope not. I think we should take our time. I think we should lick our wounds if we have to. I think we should think seriously.”
Blunkett also opened the inquest over Labour’s possible defeat, saying the big mistake will have been the failure to dispel the impression that Gordon Brown’s government had been responsible for the financial crisis.
He said: “If we have lost this election, we lost it from 2010 when in the six months from 2010 we failed to nail the lie that the Labour government had been responsible for the global meltdown and everything that happened in the US, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, was the Labour government’s fault.”
The Labour party has traditionally not been very successful at getting rid of leaders who lose elections, allowing former leader Neil Kinnock two attempts to take on the Conservatives. Alternatively, Miliband could fall on his own sword and concede his assumption that Britain moved to the left after the financial crisis has not proved correct.
SOURCE : http://www.theguardian.com/