John McDonnell: Face the facts: New Labour has failed

Our members will not tolerate for much longer this unseemly public rucking
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Like me, Labour Party supporters have been looking on aghast at the infighting taking place between the Blair and Brown factions. New Labour politics is looking more like an episode of The Sopranos than a political party seeking to represent its members and govern the country.

On the one hand we have had Milburn and Byers calling for a debate on the future of New Labour as a fairly transparent attempt to play for time before the inevitable departure of the Prime Minister. For a time I'm sure they hoped against hope that events might have come to pass that allowed Blair to stay on, but now this has degenerated into a hint at a timetable for departure and the frantic search for anyone in cabinet who is not Gordon Brown.

On the other side we have Ed Balls desperately arguing still for "a stable and orderly transition" and denouncing any policy debate within the party as "navel gazing". The Balls logic is that there are no "fundamental divides" in the Labour Party, and therefore no need for a debate before we all fall into line behind Brown.

The most nauseating spectacle, however, has been the sight of absolutist New Labour MPs turning on Blair. Most of them owe their whole existence to him, having been parachuted into seats by the Blair machine and having sycophantically supported every New Labour twist in policy demanded of them. They have been motivated not by any principled policy or philosophical disagreement but simply to save their own political skins.

None of the factions has got the message. The reason Blair is unpopular is not the individual but the failed policies that New Labour has developed under him and Brown, and the style of government New Labour has introduced where trust has been corroded by spin and dishonesty. A change of leader without a fundamental break with New Labour, its policies and its politics, risks not just the loss of the next election but the potential of a party broken and in the wilderness for a generation.

Labour supporters want to see a democratic election for a new leader which entails a dignified exit for the existing leader, a thorough, open and comradely policy debate, followed by a democratic election and the uniting of the party to defeat the Tories and win the next election.

The very people who are excluded from this critical process at the moment are Labour Party members. The "poor bloody infantry" who deliver the leaflets, sustain us with their contributions through their party and trade union subs and who undeservedly lose their seats on councils because of the unpopular policies of the New Labour leadership. The political street fighting between the militant tendencies of Blair and Brown fails to address the real life issues the vast majority of our supporters have to face each day, and the ideals which motivated them to become part of our movement.

When the Blair and Brown factions trade blows over issues like employment, globalisation, taxation, pensions, reform of public services, the environment and foreign policy, they speak in terms which are totally unrelated to the real life experiences or aims of the vast proportion of our members and supporters.

Most see through New Labour calls for reform and modernisation and have come to understand that public service reform for both Blair and Brown means public service privatisation in all its different guises of sell-offs, PFI, and the latest laughable euphemism of "contestablility".

Labour Party supporters also experience the consequences of our grotesquely unequal society, where cumulative disadvantage produces communities where life expectancy itself can differ by 15 years between rich and poor, and educational opportunities increasingly under New Labour are accessed by fee paying.

Labour Party members will not tolerate for much longer the unseemly public rucking between the Blair and Brown factions which puts next year's elections at risk and gives such an open goal to Cameron. In addition, they will not accept being sidelined in any debate about the future leadership of the party and its future political direction.

Blair and Brown courtiers need to be reminded that this party belongs to its members, not some New Labour Westminster elite. I announced that I would stand for leader of the party so that members and supporters would be given the chance of debating and having a choice over the future of the party. That's why today I will be in Manchester launching the first of many open meetings across the country with party members to engage in debate.

The writer is MP for Hayes and Harlington. He launches his challenge for the Labour leadership today