Asked whether Labour would do better under another leader, Lord Mandelson stopped well short of an enthusiastic endorsement of Mr Miliband, saying: “Do you think your product would be better if you changed the wrapping? It depends what you think people are voting for.”
The former Business Secretary’s comments come as soon to retire Halifax MP Linda Riordan warns Labour leaders that the party will lose her Halifax seat unless a candidate to replace her is chosen “as a matter or urgency”. The MP’s slim majority of 1,472 has seen the Conservatives make the seat target number 18.
In a letter to Labour general secretary Iain McNicol, Ms Riordan said: “Despite the local party having indicated its desire to begin the process of selection, the party centrally have done nothing to enable members to begin the process of choosing their candidate.”
She added: “To put it bluntly I fear that unless we get a candidate soon, there is the very real danger of losing Halifax.”
The delay is believed to be due to Labour nationally opposing the selection of a candidate linked to union vote-rigging allegations in Scotland.
The selection row piles pressure on Labour as Lord Mandelson revived his criticisms of Mr Miliband’s flagship promise of a mansion tax on properties worth over £2m, suggesting that it would not “in a month of Sundays” raise the £1.2bn a year predicted by the Labour leader.
His comments come a as the most recent YouGov poll puts the Conservatives on 35 per cent and Labour on 31 per cent.
Looking ahead to the election during a speech at the Retail Week Live conference in London, Lord Mandelson said: “People basically are unhappy with what is on offer. They are therefore shopping around in politics in a way that the large parties are ill-equipped to deal with and which will almost certainly deliver us a stalemate hung Parliament in two months’ time.”
Answering questions after the speech, Lord Mandelson was asked if Labour would be doing better in the polls “if it had a leader the public liked better”.
After a long pause, the Labour peer replied: “Do you think your product would be better if you changed the wrapping?
“It depends what you think people are voting for. People are voting for more than simply the personification of a party.
“Of course that is important, but they are voting for the party’s values and the party’s relevance, the quality of that product and whether they think that product - or in our case as politicians, that policy - will do for them.
“Of course, the leader has a responsibility for being the chief brand carrier of that product or policy.
“I think you will see that, as the real election campaign gets under way, the leader of the Labour Party will have the opportunities as well as the pressure to explain, get his message across and to draw others more towards him and the party in order to shape their voting decision.”
Speaking later at a Fabian conference in Westminster, Lord Mandelson said he had been trying to make the point that people should not become “infatuated with personality-driven media-obsessed politics” which focus entirely on the identity of the leader.
Discussing the mansion tax, he said: “Not in a month of Sundays will it raise the amount of money that is projected. Everyone knows that it won’t.”