Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown's refusal to use the word "cuts" during the 2010 election hurt the party's credibility as people thought it was not serious about clearing the deficit, a senior frontbencher has said.
Chuka Umunna, Labour's shadow business secretary, suggested that Brown's decision "gave the impression we didn't understand that debt and deficit would have to be dealt with."
Speaking to GQ magazine, he said that Labour was not further ahead in the opinion polls because it had allowed itself to be blamed for the economic "mess" the country was left in.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has faced mounting pressure from his own shadow cabinet to fight harder against Tory messaging. Jon Trickett, Labour's deputy chairman, told the Huffington Post UK that the party needed to use "strong, plain language" to cut through to voters.
Umunna also admitted that Labour would struggle to win back voters over the economy, unless it tells a "hopeful, optimistic [and] aspirational" message.
Asked by interviewer Alastair Campbell, who was Tony Blair's chief spin doctor, whether Labour can win, he said: "We can. I don't know if we will, but we can, if we make the right calls, if we focus on people and their ambitions and not on the bubble at Westminster. Bill Clinton said we have to own the future.
The Labour frontbencher called on his party to talk "more proudly" about its record in government in order to win the next election, which he warned would the "nastiest" to date, adding: "We do need to explain and rebut this notion that we crashed the car.
"My view is that the seeds were sown under the last government and Gordon [Brown] - for whom I have a lot of respect - his refusal to use the word 'cuts' [as applied to Labour] in trying to frame the economic debate as [Labour] investment versus [Tory] cuts gave the impression we didn't understand that debt and deficit would have to be dealt with."