We lost the election and we could be out of power for a generation. What will determine our future now is how deeply we rethink and how quickly we regroup.
The new political reality is this: the coalition Government has done more to modernise and rebrand the Conservative Party than anything since Margaret Thatcher. Cameron is no longer the prisoner of his party's Right flank. He has the chance to earn the trust of the British people in Government.
We must also recognise the significance of our own defeat. We lost nearly 100 seats. We dropped to third place in a further 81. We lost vast swathes of the south. Nationally it was our worst result since Michael Foot. The Tories need a swing of just 2 per cent more to gain an overall majority. It wasn't the armageddon that some expected but let's not kid ourselves: this was a resounding defeat.
We need to ask ourselves some searching questions about who and what we stand for in the 21st century. Only then will we earn the right to govern again.
A deal in an Islington restaurant in 1994 led to the creation of two different tribes at the top of the party. It damaged our government and we cannot let it haunt us in opposition.
In 2008 when the party needed renewing we had a coronation rather than an open debate. I was one of the people who was part of that. I share the blame with the other 300 MPs who made the same decision.
Even in our dying days in government, there was no sense that MPs, let alone party members, would be consulted on what kind of deal could be offered to the Liberal Democrats. The election itself proved that we stopped listening not just to our own members but also to the country. Going into the election 80 per cent of the public said that they wanted change. Our message: more of the same.
The financial crisis revealed that markets are amoral. People wanted ethics, not just economics. For the campaign we should have run, anyone should watch Gordon Brown's speech to Citizens UK: passionate, idealistic and reformist. This should have been our message throughout.
The tragedy is that we even had some decent policy in the manifesto. A levy on the banks. A cap on interest rates for loans. Electoral reform. Tough, mandatory regulation of lobbyists. But rather than offering a story about Britain's future, our manifesto read more like a telephone directory. It was a long list of disconnected proposals.
Those of us who have been ministers have swallowed too much of the language and culture of the civil service. We have become too managerialist and technocratic. For Labour's next generation this is the moment of reckoning. We cannot simply offer the public shopping lists of carefully targeted policies. Policy must be underpinned by a wider vision of social justice that people can buy into, whatever their circumstances.
All is not lost. We are not in government but we need not enter the electoral wilderness. To avoid this fate we must not fear change. It is time to start to imagine a new governing project. We need to become a more open, democratic party, not centralised and controlling. We must become a more forward-looking party that offers vision and reform rather than defence of the establishment. And above all we will only rebuild our governing coalition by rediscovering our own unique identity. Achieve this and come the next election we can be ready to serve our country again.
David Lammy is Labour MP for Tottenham and the former higher education minister.