Two year ago, I was summoned to see Ed Miliband. He wanted to talk about my continuous public challenge for the Labour Party to unequivocally promise to scrap the hated Bedroom Tax.
His answer left me speechless. He told me “Joe, It is what we do in Government that matters”.
I told him straight how wrong he was: “That it was “hope” people needed, if nothing else, a belief that Labour was the party that would speak out for all. Only by being bold would we ever get to be in Government again”.
I also gave him some unsolicited advice: ”Get out of the Westminster Village, stop spending days preparing for PMQs , get out and see real people in real communities , visit the food banks, and visit the cities being hardest hit by the cuts.” And I again left him with a challenge: “Make the news, don’t respond to it.”
The plea fell on deaf ears.
Soon after that meeting the same people who had led us to defeat in 2010 developed their 35% strategy. Those same advisers and spin masters were making the same mistakes again based on the false assumption the Tories would win the election for us, all we had to do was sit back and wait.
The people who didn’t want to talk about the Bedroom Tax or cuts to local services were the same ones who decided to give us the EdStone.
I had a similar meeting with Ed Balls months before the General Election. His attitude and approach was worse and I hold him responsible for much of the problem we faced. His “dead hand” hung over all our policy in relation to public sector spending. His approach of, “say nothing, offer little and wait to win” showed how arrogant and out of touch the leadership had become.
The ‘command and control’ mentality of those at the head of our party has now been in place for nearly twenty years, but it has to change to face a new world.
I left those meetings with a real sense of shame about how I and others had let a patronising elite at the top of our party become so out of touch with political reality and the world of our members.
Because all sections of the party – the leadership, advisors, the PLP and members alike – were a part of this problem, it is time to make changes to ensure our leadership never again represents themselves rather than the people they serve.
That is why I want the person who next leads our party to be honest about their role in our failure this past election. I want them to insist on a mechanism for the party membership not just the parliamentary MPs to hold them to account.
In other words, I want to be confident the next Labour leader commands the full support of all the party, at all times. To challenge our party’s leadership isn’t being disloyal. Sitting silently in the wings watching the impending car-crash but doing nothing about it is.
There should be a mechanism where the party’s membership can confirm their happiness with the leadership or trigger another leadership contest before the next General Election. With 5 years to go, only by the membership being able to have a say in the direction of the party and the performance of our leader will we prevent ourselves ‘sleepwalking’ into the same mistakes again.
Outside voices shouldn’t try to characterise this leadership debate as left versus right , New Labour versus Old Labour. Hopefully this will be recorded as the moment we choose to become pragmatic Labour and genuinely regained the trust of people once more.
We can only do that by engaging, listening and passionately advocating the ethos of Labour as the party that represents all with fairness and hope for a better life. I like many look forward to questioning and scrutinising the candidates on the direction of the party and their vision but for me there simply has to be change.
Mayor of Liverpool