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Barry Sheerman: Labour must act now to replace Gordon Brown

I stand by what I said in June and my sentiments have not changed

Our nation is in peril of being governed by a Conservative Party bereft of policies or principles, led by a man who lacks substance, vision or compass. The election of such a government would be disastrous, undermining our steady progress towards a more equal, fair and successful modern Britain.

People have questioned my motivation for calling for Gordon Brown to step down after the European elections in June. I stand by what I said in June and my sentiments have not changed.

To articulate such a view just a few short months before a general election will inevitably lead to accusations of disloyalty. I have been in active politics most of my life and have always held to the view that loyalty should be first to one's principles and then to one's country and party, not merely to a particular political leader.

Our present Prime Minister leads the country in very difficult times and must be credited with leadership of heroic proportions in the face of the international financial collapse and global recession. We must however ask ourselves why this global role has not seemed to have made Gordon Brown more popular at home, where his personal popularity lags far behind that of our party.

To many, the Prime Minister's inability to successfully connect with voters lies in his failure to legitimise himself as the leader of our country, and for Labour supporters to legitimise his role as party leader.

The question of legitimacy is particularly important for any leader who gains the top position as a result of a political coup. It is no secret that Gordon Brown deeply resented Tony Blair's leadership and it was clear that as Chancellor he actively developed a core of supporters in government and outside, determined to frustrate many of Blair's policies.

Eventually, that resentment moved from the systematic undermining of policies to an all-out, carefully orchestrated destabilisation of Blair. So successful was the Brown camp's campaign that despite his pledge to serve a full term, Blair reluctantly succumbed to the pressure and resigned.

The success of the coup meant an opportunity immediately presented itself for Gordon Brown to face election for leader of the Labour Party. His first grave mistake was that the opportunity for a democratic contest was rejected and the Brown team used every lever to ensure that there was no contest and to stifle any challenge.

Newly ensconced in No 10, the Prime Minister had another perfect opportunity to receive the seal of public approval with an early election. This time he procrastinated and then decided to risk the long parliamentary journey to an election in 2010.

The Prime Minister has now had considerable time to settle into the role and give a new sense of purpose to the country and to his party. Last June's truly dreadful performance in the European elections and the dismal local election results gave many of us cause for great concern. Most of us agreed to give him more time over the summer and even beyond, but since then little has happened to restore faith in his capacity to engage the public.

Many believe that the winning genius of Tony Blair was that he brought together disparate groups in an alliance of optimism. There are now worrying signs that Gordon Brown intends to fight the election on a class war platform, however he dresses it up. It will be tragically damaging for Labour to retreat to what it regards as its "traditional core" vote, rather than to reach out to the "floating" and "don't know" voters who are crucial to winning the next election.

Set all this in the context that the British electorate, at the moment, has clearly not learned to love the Prime Minister, although they might respect him, but that they are also deeply uninspired by the vapid leadership offered by Cameron and Clegg and their respective parties. There is still time, therefore, to seize this opportunity for change, whatever the hesitant might say.

The challenge for any leader is to promote a new vision for our country, inspire and enthuse the electorate and win their votes. I believe that only a strong Labour leader, unfettered by political history can do this.

No one would wish to underrate the significant contribution that Gordon Brown has made to our nation's politics. We all understand that, at heart, he wants the very best for Britain. However, now is the time for those around him who also care about our country's future, to convince him that it is time for him to make way for a new leader.

I will, as I have done for the past 30 years, continue to articulate the Labour vision in my constituency and in the country. Whatever happens, the next election will be fought in a new era for Britain. We must be bold, and for Britain's sake we must win.

The writer has been Labour MP for Huddersfield since 1979