Ivan Lewis: 'Labour persisted with a failed brand'

The Labour party made a bad mistake when it abandoned its campaign to create an era of One Nation politics after the idea was “written off as a failed brand”, the shadow cabinet minister Ivan Lewis has said.

In a frank account of Labour’s failings, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary says the party will only win again if it builds up support in the “mainstream majority” encompassing people from all backgrounds.

Writing in the Guardian, Lewis calls for a lengthy leadership election to allow the party to come to terms with its heavy defeat before choosing a new leader. He says he has no problems with former special advisers standing for the leadership, but warns that Labour must not follow the Tories in being seen as the “born to rule party”.

The shadow Northern Ireland secretary writes: “Closed cliques – whether advisers who served during the Blair-Brown years, or 2010-intake MPs – are unhealthy and will lead to poor decisions and further public alienation. It is the Tories, not we, who are the ‘born to rule party’. We need the right leader supported by the right team to take the fight to the Tories and win the argument about the future. We can do it – but only if we learn the right lessons from the past.”

Liz Kendall, the shadow social care minister, became the first member of the shadow cabinet to announce her candidacy for the leadership. Her fellow modernisers, Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt, have said they are also considering whether to run. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, and Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, are understood to be making preparations.

Lewis, a supporter of Tony Blair, declines to say who he will support in the leadership contest, but makes clear that the next Labour leader must be a figure who can reach out across Britain. He writes: “We must resist the temptation to make false choices between different groups of voters. Whether it is middle-class or working-class, English or Scottish. To win again, Labour must build a mainstream majority of support which reaches out to people who would view themselves in all of those categories.”

Lewis warns that the party under Miliband’s leadership had focused its fire on the very top of the population and directed its sympathy towards the bottom. This meant that middle-income voters felt abandoned. He writes: “By focusing much of our rhetoric on the top 2% and the bottom 10%, the squeezed middle felt we were silent on their ambitions and insecurity.”

Labour’s failure to appeal across Britain explains Ed Miliband’s mistake in abandoning his mission, outlined in his conference speech in 2012, to champion a One Nation Britain, Lewis says. He writes: “Perhaps the greatest challenge facing us in the years ahead will be our capacity to keep the UK together. Ensuring the majority in all parts of our country feel they are getting a fair deal and combining head and heart in a patriotism that can defeat nationalism.

“One Nation Labour could have been the vehicle to make this case and win the argument. Sadly, it was allowed to wither, written off as a failed brand, when it was meant to be a project every bit as profound as the development of New Labour.”

The next leader should seek to bind the UK by establishing a constitutional convention to examine future structures of governance for the UK. Lewis writes: “David Cameron’s appalling but sadly politically effective divide-and-rule approach to the union leaves a vacuum that Labour should fill. If he is unwilling to do so, we should proceed with our proposed constitutional convention. This should provide a strong voice for Northern Ireland and Wales as well as England and Scotland. It should consider all options including a federal state.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Monday 11th May 2015 06.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010