Leadership contest needs to 'consign New Labour to history'

Andrew Grice
Monday 17 May 2010 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

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The public should be given a quarter of the votes when Labour chooses its next leader, a former government minister proposes today.

David Lammy says New Labourmust be “consigned to history” after the party’s general election defeat and calls for a radical extension of democracy inside the party to end the “command and control” of the Blair-Brown era.

Mr Lammy wants 25 per cent of the votes in Labour’s electoral college handed to ordinary people. At present, the party’s MPs, members and trade unionists each have a third of the votes.

Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) will consider widening the franchise when it fixes the timetable for the leadership contest tomorrow.

It is thought to be unlikely to give the public a formal say through a share of the votes or American-style primaries, which would require a change of rules and delay the contest. But it may allow registered Labour supporters to nominate candidates and will call for TV debates between them. The NEC may decide that the election result should be announced on the first day of the party’s annual conference in September, avoiding the cost of a separate conference in July.

Writing in The Independent and the next edition of the Fabian Society’s magazine, Mr Lammy says New Labour’s “command and control” culture “hasn’t just stifled our electoral prospects, it is suffocating our party. Membership has reached rock-bottom. Members feel disempowered. The Parliamentary Labour Party feels its voice is not heard. Our volunteers are wonderful but our candidates are still selected by fewer than a hundred people sitting in a room.” He said Labour members should be balloted on the party’s next election manifesto.

The former higher education minister, whose views are close to those of the possible backbench contender Jon Cruddas and who is a personal friend of the shadow Foreign Secretary David Miliband, says Labour must drop “old labels” that are no guide to its political future. “Most obviously ‘New Labour’ has become a meaningless term and shouldbeconfined to history,” he says.

“We must move on. Similarly, there can nolonger be ‘Blairites’ and ‘Brownites’.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both served our party, but neither is now active in British politics. We must not collapse into old factions and infighting.”

A similar call comes today from Ed Balls, the shadow Schools Secretary, who is expected to enter the race this week. Writing in The Independent, he warns: “If we see this contest through the prism and outdated labels of Blairites vs Brownites, New Labour v Old, it will be a disaster for us. Let’s not keep trying to define ourselves against ourselves and our past.”

Headds: “We must listen before we pronounce; talk the language of the people not politicians; root what we do not in tactical positioning but in our values; and be a tough and responsible opposition but stay equally focussed on a radical and credible programme for government.”

Ed Miliband, the shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, yesterday presented himself as the candidate who could “unite the party”. He told BBC TV: “We lost different groups in the population. We lost people who have been traditionally Labour voters over issues such asimmigration. I think we also lost the voters that Tony Blair attracted to our party in 1997 and I would want to win them back and I would make that a very important part of my leadership.”

But senior Labour figures warned Ed Miliband not to “trash the record”

of the party since 1997, saying this happened when it lost power in 1979 andhelpedensure 18 years in the wilderness. AlastairCampbell, Mr Blair’s former communications director, said there had to be an assessment of why Labour lost support but added: “I would advise Ed against doing too much of the bashing of the past which marked out his launch and today’s interview... Being overly and needlessly critical of the past is not the best way to start an argument about the future.”

David Miliband said the tensions between Blairites and Brownites in the Labour Party were “gone and over”.

He said: “New Labour was a reaction to the 1980s but it was trapped by the 1980s. Anyone who thinks that the future is about recreating New Labour is wrong. I think we’ve got to use this period to decisively break with that.

What I’m interested in is Next Labour.”

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