We were addicted to Murdoch like crack cocaine, admits Jowell


Jane Merrick,Brian Brady,And Matt Chorley
Sunday 25 September 2011 00:00 BST

Labour lost the confidence of voters after 13 years in power because it was addicted to the "crack cocaine" of courting media barons such as Rupert Murdoch rather than listening to the public's concerns, a senior member of Ed Miliband's Shadow Cabinet says today.

In a frank assessment of the mountain the Opposition has to climb if it is to win the next election, Tessa Jowell warns that "nobody is listening" to Labour because of a breakdown in trust with the public on the economy, its relations with the media, and a failure to talk about welfare and immigration. Voters can only hear "white noise", she says, and Labour must promise to open the "gilded cages" of the Westminster, media and City establishments.

As Labour's conference opens in Liverpool today, the shadow Olympics minister is joined by the party's policy chief, Liam Byrne, and former home secretary Alan Johnson in calling for Mr Miliband to apologise for Labour's mistakes on the economy.

All three senior figures, from the Blairite wing of the party, use interviews with The Independent on Sunday to urge Mr Miliband to "cleave to the centre ground" to win back the voters who handed Labour three election victories and be honest about mistakes made on the deficit.

But while the Labour leader is expected to admit there is a "long way to go" to repair the party's credibility on the economy, aides said the time had passed for him to say sorry for the previous government's economic legacy.

However, in a sign that the Labour leader is responding to concerns that the party has lost touch, Mr Miliband last night secured a deal to give 50,000 "registered supporters" a say in choosing the Labour leader. He said: "I want to change the party to make us more outward looking and talk to the public."

Ms Jowell will today build on her message in a speech to a rally of Progress, representing New Labour modernisers, by saying that Labour can rebuild confidence with voters by reaching out to communities "street by street".

In an interview with The IoS, she says: "What we've got to accept is that in the country more widely, nobody is listening. The biggest battle that Labour has at the moment is to be relevant and to be heard... For so many people, it's just white noise.

"If we are to become a more meritocratic country where there really is a sense that opportunity is there, if you have the initiative and the will to seize it, then we've got to open up these gilded cages."

Asked whether she believes the Labour government should have been more robust with News International over phone-hacking allegations, Ms Jowell, who was a victim of hacking and will be a core participant in the Leveson inquiry, says: "I think that the mistake that we made – it's a bit like the crack cocaine of politics, isn't it? Getting a good write-up, or the horror of a bad write-up. At its worst, Westminster politics is like a private conversation between Westminster media and Westminster politicians, and the rest of the world are eavesdroppers on a private conversation, and that's got to change."

In a sign that the party is desperate to make a clean break with News International, Labour activists will vote on a joint motion from the Unite union and MP Tom Watson calling for James Murdoch to quit as chairman of the group.

Under the party rule change, "registered supporters" will be given their own electoral college with 10 per cent weighting. The other three colleges – unions, MPs and MEPs, and party members – will have 30 per cent each. Multiple votes will also be banned, and talks will begin on allowing registered supporters to decide party policy.

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