Miliband dismisses MP criticism claims as 'nonsense'

Ed Miliband: "My focus is on the country"

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Ed Miliband has dismissed reports of unrest among Labour MPs over his leadership of the party as "nonsense".

Some backbenchers have told the chairman of the parliamentary party that he should stand down, sources say.

It is understood his leadership was questioned at a meeting of Labour MPs from north-west England this week.

But, speaking on a visit to Northamptonshire, Mr Miliband said: "We remain focused on this country and how we can make this country work again."

He told the BBC: "I don't accept that this matter (concern over his leadership) arises."

Mr Miliband added: "Honestly, this is nonsense."

'Downturn in mood'

Sources say MPs from north-west England discussed moving to a defensive strategy in a bid to hold on to their seats, rather than an offensive one aimed at winning the election.

Meanwhile, two polls have suggested Scottish Labour is on course to lose most of its Westminster seats to the SNP.

Another, by YouGov for the Sunday Times, suggested Mr Miliband was less popular than his Liberal Democrat counterpart Nick Clegg.

One normally loyal backbencher told the BBC's Ross Hawkins: "I think there's been a sharp downturn in mood over the last few days."

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Analysis - BBC political correspondent Carole Walker

The mood among Labour MPs is grim indeed. "We can't just carry on like this", one former minister told me, though others believe it is unlikely there will be a serious attempt to unseat Ed Miliband before the election.

"There's no-one to ride to the rescue," another said, pointing out that former Home Secretary Alan Johnson was not willing to stand. Another said: "No-one would be stupid enough to move now."

But there is no disguising the scale of the concerns.

The complaints are many and varied. Some on the right of the party say their leader has no hope of appealing to Middle England; others on the left say he should abandon austerity and reverse coalition cuts.

There are complaints about Mr Miliband's office, described as "dysfunctional" and "remote from the real world". Some are concerned the party lacks pithy policies to sell on the doorstep.

For all the talk of possible leadership challenges, most are focusing their energies on the battle to hold on to their own seats.

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New Statesman magazine, which backed Mr Miliband's leadership campaign in 2010, published a critical article suggesting he "doesn't really understand the lower-middle class or material aspiration".

And Labour peer Lord Soley has written an article urging the party not to wait "for the Tories to lose" next year's general election.

He added: "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."

The BBC has learned the leadership was discussed on Wednesday, at a regular social gathering of Labour MPs from the 2010 intake.

Damian McBride: "I think the mood is pretty black in Labour. And certainly since party conference the mood has got blacker"

But critics and supporters of Mr Miliband alike said they had no knowledge of a letter being circulated by backbenchers aimed at removing him.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls dismissed reports of a plot to oust Mr Miliband, telling the BBC: "I think all this is nonsense, to be honest. I've no idea about any of this."

Speaking on BBC One's Question Time, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said there was a "sense of deep political alienation" among voters, adding: "We have to face the reality that divided parties lose elections."

Labour Party donor John Mills called for MPs to rally round Mr Miliband and do "everything we can to get a Labour government elected in six months times".

He called the briefings against the leader as "unfortunate and unhelpful" and "not representative of the view of Labour Party people over the country".

He told BBC News: "Talking of changing leadership so close to the election doesn't make any sense at all and it's not justified anyway."

Another supportive shadow minister blamed "serial dissenters" for criticism of the party leader.

Mr Miliband completed a mini-reshuffle of his team on Wednesday, following the resignation of Jim Murphy as shadow international development secretary to run to be Labour's leader in Scotland.

He was replaced by transport spokeswoman Mary Creagh, who in turn was succeeded by Michael Dugher, a close ally of Mr Miliband.

In Parliament, House of Commons Leader William Hague said Mr Miliband had "had a reshuffle in order to forestall a coup" and suggested the party's election guru, David Axelrod, who helped Barack Obama win the US presidency, was "losing patience with them".

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