Arrogance has cost Labour thousands of members, says deputy-leader contender

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Labour has lost thousands of party members because it has been "arrogant" and failed to listen, a leading contender to be the next deputy leader of the Labour party has warned.

Harriet Harman, who last week declared her intention to run for the deputy leadership, said members had become "disillusioned" with the Government, particularly over foreign policy. She said a key task was to win back those who had left the party, and added that the vision of the party "knocking lumps out of each other" was helping the Tories.

"Party membership has halved and people are disillusioned for a number of reasons particularly because we have said that we are not listening and arrogant," she said. "The symbol of that has been our foreign policy... particularly Iraq."

She called for an end to the "negative advertising" that was helping the Tories.

Ms Harman, an ally of Gordon Brown, said that the deputy had to be able to work closely with him, and that she was well-placed to do so. "You need a good, stable partner of Gordon Brown," she said, so there would be "no tensions". Her comments are expected to be seen as a thinly veiled criticism of Alan Johnson, who is not considered an ally of the Chancellor.

There was talk yesterday that Tony Blair would prefer David Miliband over Alan Johnson as a Blairite challenger to Mr Brown.

Tony Blair held a secret meeting with a delegation of loyalist MPs last week to map out a policy programme after he leaves office. The meeting, held at No 10, will fuel accusations that he plans to "back-seat drive" after he stands down. Mr Blair was discussing ideas for a pamphlet to be published by the Blairite think-tank Progress about the direction of health and education policy over the next 10 years.

Blairite loyalists, including Alan Milburn, are expected to break their silence over the future direction of the party before next week's party conference in Manchester. The move would be seen as an end to the ceasefire between the Blair and Brown camps.

According to an ICM poll released today, 40 per cent of voters want Mr Blair to step down immediately.