London: Ed Miliband tore into Labour's style of government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as he promised to rebuild a grassroots movement that would go beyond "the bureaucratic state" and look to local people for answers.
Seeking to sustain momentum after the party's success in last week's Oldham East and Saddleworth byelection, the Labour leader insisted the party would only move forward if it understood how and why it "lost touch with people's daily struggle" during 13 years in power.
Miliband told the Fabian Society that he was proud of much that Labour did in office, but that its failure to regulate the markets and, latterly, its belief that the state knew best, left it remote from the people it existed to serve.
"We became too technocratic and managerial," he said. "But more than that: we sometimes lost sight of people as individuals and of the importance of communities. In our use of state power, too often we didn't take people with us.
"At the same time, we seemed in thrall to a vision of the market that seemed to place too little importance on the values, institutions and relationships that people cherish the most."
The Labour leader is gradually putting together his own alternative to David Cameron's "big society" with the help of a team of new advisers that now include the recently ennobled academic Maurice Glasman, who pioneered the acclaimed work of community group London Citizens.
Rather than dismantling local institutions and relying on volunteers the Tory vision of localism Miliband said he wanted to reinvigorate local communities by preserving and strengthening local institutions such as post offices and libraries, seeing them as the hubs of community life.
"The only way we rebuild the case for politics is from the ground up. The campaign for the local library, the local zebra crossing, the improvement of a school, must be our campaign."
Miliband told the conference that Labour had to reclaim the "big society" as it was an idea in tune with its values, not the Conservatives. "Only Labour can build the good society. Society can only function if based on progressive Labour values," he said.