Andrew Smith: You promised to go, Tony. Now is the time

The task at national level is to win back people's trust
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The message from voters on the doorstep during the local elections was very clear. I lost count of the number of previously loyal Labour supporters who said, "Not this time". Again and again I was told: "Tell them they've got to get back on track, in touch with us before we start voting Labour again." As well as the 300 seats we lost, there were hundreds more wards in which we hung on only because of strong local campaigns behind effective councillors, whose hard work enabled us to stave off an even worse result.

The renewal of the Labour Party which disaffected voters want must draw on these differing experiences of Labour, the reality behind the headlines that followed these results. Where we are seen locally as the party with the best ideas for improving the area, in touch with local people and on their side, we could win, even against the backdrop of bad national news.

The task ahead at a national level is to win back people's confidence and trust in the purpose and direction Labour is taking, so that we are once again regarded in this way, in touch and on your side, where the buffeting of day-to-day events is steadied by a clear sense of direction and long-term purpose.

This renewal must be guided by clear principles and an understanding of the position we are in. These principles can be described as unity, hard work and Labour values.

Unity: Spending time fighting between left and right, or Blairites and Brownites, would lead us to certain defeat. Unity is something which everyone needs to buy into, and cannot be demanded by people who are not prepared to show it themselves. In the short term, it requires an end to the destructive instability and speculation over the leadership.

Hard work: Keeping in touch with local people and making sure that we are prioritising the issues that they find important requires a lot of hard work. It means demanding and delivering high standards of service at a local level, and responding effectively and promptly to people's complaints. This is crucial in defeating the BNP and others who feed off disaffection in deprived areas.

Labour values: All of our greatest successes have been possible because of our underlying beliefs in a fairer and more equal society. To rebuild trust, we need to explain better how what we do in government is based on these principles. We also need to attract people who care about improving their area to get involved and join the party.

We must win - and in many cases win back - the confidence of those who recognise that in changed circumstances security measures are necessary, but who want the Labour Party more clearly and positively to voice commitment to the civil liberties, reinvigorated democracy and equal citizenship which are an indispensable part of our progressive purpose.

Rebuilding Labour's mission; connection and trust with people cannot be left until just before the next general election. The reassurance those voters, or in many cases non-voters, on the doorstep are looking for is not another short-term initiative or attempt to recapture the news agenda, but evidence that we are listening to them, making changes which address their concerns, and setting a course for the future which they are confident in and proud of.

This raises - as many voters did with me - the question of the leadership and when there is to be the orderly transition of power that Tony has wisely promised. I think it would be better, not just for the country and the party but also for the Prime Minister himself, if he made clear what the timetable is, and the sooner the better.

It is inevitable that after nearly 10 years in power we are facing new challenges. The lesson from these local elections is that the Labour Party at all levels has to be seen to be in touch with the voters whose support we sought - and all too often failed to win - last Thursday.

This is not business as usual, carrying on much as before until things look up. It is about a clear signal that we have listened to what the public are saying. The renewal of the Labour Party is essential if we are to build a progressive consensus inspired by the goals of abolishing child poverty, tackling climate change, and building a fair society where everyone has the opportunity to make the most of their potential. We must rebuild confidence, trust and enthusiasm that Labour in government has direction and purpose for the future, to build on all that has so far been achieved.

Andrew Smith is MP for Oxford East and a former Labour cabinet minister

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