Harriet Harman has hit out at the Blairite former Labour cabinet ministers who have criticised Ed Miliband's leadership in recent weeks.
In an interview with The Huffington Post UK, Labour's deputy leader dismissed former health secretary Alan Milburn and former work and pensions secretary John Hutton as "unhelpful commentators" and urged them to be quiet.
"Nobody made Alan Milburn leave parliament. He could have stayed on as a Labour MP and been part of the team. It was his choice to go. The same with John Hutton. It was his choice to go. They've stepped aside, okay that’s their choice for them to do that, but actually [they should] support the team that is fighting for social progress in this country," she said.
Both Milburn and Hutton stepped down from the Commons in 2010. Hutton now sits in the House of Lords, but Milburn left parliament altogether. Harman told them: "Don’t become an unhelpful commentator, using your position as a former person in a Labour cabinet."
Asked if she believed the likes of Hutton and Milburn were motivated by a secret desire to see David Cameron re-elected in May, she said: "I don’t know."
"I think people sometimes can't resist a sort of moment of being back in the frame. But they chose not to be in the struggle. They chose that. So basically ... they should focus on what they chose to do. Not dip in with comments when we are heading to a general election."
Miliburn recently criticised Miliband for running a “pale imitation” of Labour's losing 1992 general election campaign. And in a joint article with Milburn, Hutton accused Miliband and Ed Balls of handing the Tories a "needless advantage" by failing to defend the last Labour governments economic record.
Alan Milburn has been critical of Ed Miliband
In recent days Labour has been forced to defend itself against accusations that the party is anti-business. "It's always been Labour's case that we support business in terms of its important role in creating jobs and creating prosperity but we want businesses to be responsible citizens who pay their taxes.. pay the minimum wage," Harman said. What Miliband is saying on business, according to his deputy, "is absolutely right and reflects Labour values".
Harman said the recent attacks on Labour by former M&S boss Stuart Rose and Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire were "probably" coordinated by the Tories.
Labour's deputy leader also rejected the suggestion that Miliband's leadership was under threat over the summer. "I don’t agree that he was having a leadership crisis," she said.
"Actually we’ve been winning council seats across the whole period of Ed Miliband’s leadership.. It was never going to be easy to be Leader of the Opposition when you have been roundly kicked out of government but he has led us to a position where we are in contention. He always knew it was going to be very hard."
In the interview with HuffPost UK's Mehdi Hasan, Harman accused the Daily Mail of making an "outrageous and calculated" attack on her personally for calling her and her husband "apologists for paedophilia".
Today Harman launches Labour's 'Women’s Tour' of the country. "This is the biggest dividing line between women in the Tory Party and women in the Labour Party. The Tories want to hoover up lots of women’s votes so they can get into power [and] be a Tory government. We want to get women’s votes so Labour can be in power [and] we can deliver for women," she said.
Read the full interview with Harriet Harman on women, the pink bus, the Daily Mail, Ed Miliband, the general election, coalition, Labour critics and why she does not want to be London mayor.