THE Tories are “running amok” while Labour focuses on finding a replacement for Ed Miliband, the party’s Scottish leadership favourite Kezia Dugdale has warned.
The Lothian MSP said the UK Labour leadership contest – which still has another six weeks to run – was “too long” and was allowing the Conservatives to forge ahead with controversial policies, including welfare cuts.
She said: “This happened in 2010 when Gordon Brown lost office – we spent far too long debating the future of the party, which I accept is important, but not as important as maintaining our economic credibility and record.
“We let the Tories run amok while we took months to choose a new leader – and the same is happening again.”
Since Mr Miliband’s resignation following Labour’s general election defeat, the party at Westminster has been led by deputy leader Harriet Harman, who is also standing down.
Ballot papers to choose the new UK leader and deputy will not be sent out until August 14 with the result due at a special conference on September 12.
The Scottish Labour leadership contest is a shorter process, with voting already under way and the result due on August 15.
Ms Dugdale used a televised debate with leadership rival Ken Macintosh earlier this week to criticise Labour MPs for abstaining in a vote on the Tories’ Welfare Bill, which proposes drastic changes to tax credits.
She said: “Tax credits were one of the best things the Labour government introduced, helping families make ends meet. We failed to defend those families when we failed to vote against that policy last week.
“We failed to stand up for our record as well. I’m proud of that record and I was angry when our MPs didn’t vote against it.”
She said Labour MPs were trying to make the Bill better and she accepted the need for pragmatism. But she added: “There are times when you have to make a stand and you have to say ‘No’. We should have done that last week.”
The SNP has capitalised on Labour’s abstentions to claim the new 56-strong Nationalist group is now the “real opposition” at Westminster.
But Ms Dugdale said she was less concerned about the SNP than the Tories taking advantage of Labour’s distractions.
She said: “It’s more about the damage the Tories can do when they think no-one is watching.Changing tax credits in the way they want to is not a small thing. It affects hundreds of thousands of people across the UK.”
She said the top priority was to make it clear what the party was about. “At the election, we had 160 different policies in our manifesto, but no-one knew what we were for. People want to know why we are Labour and what we believe in rather than what we would do for them. It’s back to first principles – what are they voting for when they vote Labour?
“We need a strong Labour Party articulating why a fairer, more equal society is better for everyone, regardless of their income or background.”