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Miliband kicks off Labour fightback amid polls gloom

Labour is "back" as the party of hard-pressed families, Ed Miliband claimed yesterday as his party gathered in Liverpool for its annual conference.

In the face of bleak opinion polls which suggested that voters do not trust the party to govern, the Labour leader insisted it would re-establish itself on the side of the so-called “squeezed middle”.

But the Conservatives accused his party of failing on the economy, and of sending out a message that it would “do it all again”.

Miliband’s comments came as Labour prepared to take the first significant step towards removing him as head of the party in Scotland. A newly beefed-up Scottish leader role has been created in the wake of a disastrous showing in the Holyrood elections in May.

Arriving in Liverpool, Miliband said: “What I’m interested in doing this week and what I’m determined to do is show to Britain’s hard-working families that Labour is back as the party of them.

“They are families who are worried about the economy, are seeing their living standards squeezed and are worried about their kids.”

He also ramped up his attack on the energy and railway sectors, declaring that he would take on “vested interests” and those who were ripping off customers.

Miliband’s comments come as the global economic crisis continues to dominate headlines, following recent days which have seen millions of pounds wiped off the value of British firms.

Ed Balls, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, has said the party will use the conference to convince voters it has a “credible and compelling” plan for the country’s finances.

But Labour was forced to firefight on the economy again yesterday amid suggestions contained in a new book that, when he worked at the Treasury, Balls manipulated official figures and helped to send public spending spiralling out of control.

There were also claims that he had ignored calls to cut public spending as far back as 2007.

Two opinion polls released yesterday also suggest that Labour faces an uphill struggle to convince voters that it can be trusted.

One put the party just a single point ahead of the Tories, despite the perceived unpopularity of the Coalition Government and its public spending cuts.

A second poll showed that 70% of those asked believed that Labour was not fit for government.

Miliband’s attack on large energy firms “ripping off” customers is part of an electoral fightback that the party hopes to kickstart this week.

As well as significant changes to the party’s own internal structure, it will unveil the first in a series of policy reviews, designed to update a number of key areas and appeal to a wider section of the electorate.

Jim Murphy, the former Scottish Secretary and now Shadow Defence Secretary, revealed to The Herald last week that he will also issue a plea to voters to take a “second look” at Labour, at a party which he said was changing in response to its election defeats.

Last night Ann McKechin, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, echoed his comments as she too said that living standards would be a focus of the week ahead.

“Labour is going to show that we will be the party of change,” she said. “From the economy to the welfare system and the opportunities for the next generation.

“We will also be doing some changing to ourselves,” she added, in a nod to the new Scottish leader role.

However, the Labour leader is also not the only Miliband expected to begin the painful process of a relaunch at this year’s conference.

His brother, David, whom Ed only narrowly beat to the top job in a damaging competition last year, had been expected to stay away from the meeting in Liverpool.

However, he is now to make an appearance promoting a grassroots community movement, a move which is widely expected to signal a more public role.

To coincide with the anniversary of Ed Miliband’s leadership, the Tories yesterday accused him of presiding over 52 “weeks of weakness”.

Sayeeda Warsi, the Conservative Party chairman, also poured scorn on the Labour leader’s stated intention to focus on the economy this week.

“His message to the British people is, ‘Vote for us – we’d do it all over again’,” she said.

The SNP last night also accused Labour of being in “chaos” on the eve of its annual meeting.

The party cited infighting in Glasgow City Council and a claim by one of those bidding to become the new Scottish Labour leader, Glasgow MP Tom Harris, that the party had had no new ideas in 12 years, as evidence of a party in turmoil.

l Labour also held a special women’s conference yesterday which heard calls for a greater focus on stalking as a serious crime.

It came as the party’s Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, hit out at its so-called “Blue Labour” movement, which has called on Labour to reconnect with its traditional voters, saying that it did not seem to say anything for women.

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