Paul Farrelly: Sadly, it's time for fresh air – Gordon must go


The scale of Labour's defeat in Staffordshire, one of the key battleground counties, is truly staggering. Out of 32 seats, we kept just three and took only 18 per cent of the vote.

Anyone who thinks the answer is to keep the faith and carry on regardless is indulging in wishful thinking. Now the leadership genie is out of the bottle again, the issue has to be sorted before the next general election.

Sadly, I agree with James Purnell's assessment. In the interests of the Labour Party, Gordon Brown should step down. We need a breath of fresh air to carry through much-needed change including the Westminster expenses system, regulation of financial markets, encouraging a more balanced economy and a sustainable, greener agenda.

What concerns me, too, is Gordon's machine style of politics. My opinions would usually be conveyed in private, but on Wednesday evening the Chief Whip, one of the PM's henchmen, gave my name to the media as a coup "ringleader".

It was totally untrue. I had never seen a round robin email. No one had canvassed me to sign a letter. The Chief Whip never bothered to speak to me.

True, on Wednesday afternoon, 10 Downing Street was ringing backbenchers. I was not hunkered down in a bunker, however, but out campaigning and could not immediately take the calls. I rang back twice, but clearly too late and my name was fed to the press pack.

It was disgraceful. I was furious and it distracted from Thursday's elections. But it was reminiscent of the crisis last summer when good people were hounded, and names trotted out to journalists to flush people out into reacting.

It left a sour taste last year, and it sullies a Labour Government now. The point is you cannot convincingly claim a moral compass, or "Presbyterian conscience", yet sanction this sort of behaviour. It's like pretending the Damian McBride email scandal, which revolted us all, never happened.

Labour now needs, clearly, to reconnect with voters we claim to represent. But, instead, this style of politics just turns people off.

My opinion, as a backbencher, is one of many. I am certainly not acting in a group. After counting has finished for the Euro elections on Sunday, what is important is that figures higher in the chain, right up to the Cabinet, reflect on the full extent of the 'people's verdict' – and on whether they are prepared to put up with this style of politics.

If there is a contest, we have to break out of the feuding between exclusive cliques. The Brownite-Blairite battle has dominated too long. The Labour Party is owned by neither. It has also had enough. And now, for root and branch renewal, we need change right at the top.

Paul Farrelly is the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme and a former business editor of the 'Independent on Sunday'.