David Miliband will fail to win a majority of the rank-and-file vote in UK Labour’s leadership contest — and anyone who cannot win over the rank and file “cannot hope to win” the next election, a leading adviser to leadership rival Ed Miliband has said.

Paul Smith, a senior campaign strategist with team Ed, and a former ALP activist and candidate, was heavily critical of the attitudes and strategies of the “New Labour” core of Labour, with which David Miliband is associated.

“We stopped treating our people like citizens — we thought they’d always be there for us, and they’re not any more — that why we need to change to win.”

The leadership poll, which closes on September 22, involves more than three million eligible voters in the party and its affiliated unions, has been open since September 1, and will select a new leader ahead of the party conference the following week. Until recently, David Miliband was widely seen as virtually certain to take the prize, with Ed a distant second.

The third principal contender, Ed Balls, has been rated with little chance, and the fourth, Andy Burnham, with none at all. The fifth and most leftish candidate, member for Hackney, Diane Abbott, only made it onto the ballot (which required nomination by 33 MPs), when Miliband David “lent” her a tranche of nominators from among his supporters, this apparently demonstrating the party’s broad church nature, or its opposite.

But the competition only got interesting when Ed — whose candidacy had been greeted with some confusion, since the brothers have been seen as something of a unit — began to distinguish himself and his position from David’s assertion of a continuation of the New Labour great moving right show.

Miliband Ed set out his position in an article for the Observer three weeks ago — arguing that Labour had to change direction from its New Labour neoliberal obsession with unregulated markets, and its minimalist approach to social reform, save for the very worst off.

The Miliband, Ed camp believes that policy and process has to change if Labour is to regain power, according to Smith. He sees much of the New Labour approach as based on a series of myths:

“New Labour’s obsessive focus has always been on the voters who switch between the Tories and Labour — but the research we’ve done over the years suggests that their numbers are small, less than a million. It’s the voters we lost between 1997 and 2001 we need to win back.”

Indeed. Though Tony Blair had the distinction of winning three victories, he also has the dubious honour of driving more voters away from Labour — and out of the political process altogether — than any leader in the party’s history.

“We’ve lost five million votes in the New Labour years, and five out of six of those were working class. They’re the votes we need to get back, and there are some pretty basic things they want.”

The Miliband, Ed camp argues that the agenda for the next election has to be set out in the leadership campaign. He argues for a support for a guaranteed “living” wage — £7.60 per hour — rather than the minimum wage of £5.80. The living wage is back-calculated from an averaged cost-of-living, rather than from market minimums. Other proposals include the creation of more accessible banking through revived mutuals, and public-private banks, a high pay commission, and increased taxes for the rich to cross-fund education development.

“There’s been a failure by New Labour to address concrete working-class issues critical to peoples liives,” Smith remarks. Take housing. “In Islington, where I’m a councillor, there’s 13,000 people on the waiting list for public housing. The country is short 5 million dwelling places and these are the sorts of things people wanted Labour to fix.”

Smith is also critical of the Miliband, David camp’s campaigning methods, arguing that it’s an insider process while the Ed camp is reconnecting with voters.

“New Labour is still stuck in the insider mode. David had nearly half a million pounds in his war chest the day he began running following the May election. They’re focused on leader articles in the papers and elite opinion. We’ve spoken to 60,000 party members directly, and contacted half a million unionists. Real people talking to each other about real issues is why we winning because in this election bus drivers, nurses and school dinner ladies get a vote.”

Labour MPs, party members and affiliated union members get to vote, and each sector constitutes a third of the result, with the percentages added together. Effectively, it’s a mark out of three hundred, with the votes of a couple of MPs given equal weighting to more than three million members and unionists. Smith is optimistic about the mass vote.

“We’re going to win a majority in this election among the party and the affiliates. Whether Ed becomes leader is another question.”

The problem for Miliband, Ed and for the party is the parliamentary weighting, where MPs — drawn increasingly from the professional/managerial class elite — will give Miliband, David a hefty majority. The elder Miliband’s supporters are scornful of team Ed’s populist approach.

“We may have lost a lot of voters,” said one pundit, who described Miliband, David as the “least worst” option. “But most of them are in Labour seats. We’re not going to get back in without capturing the switchers (i.e. swinging voters). And after the deficit hole we’ve dug, we can’t go to the voters with an eight quid living wage proposal. It’s economic suicide.”

Smith disputes the politics and the psephology of this. “We’re going into a time when the conservatives will effectively gerrymander the electorate, with changes to voter registration and boundary settings. Our figures show that had we been able to draw back in the voters we’ve lost since 1997, we’d now have a 15-20 seat majority.”

Whichever way the chips fall, there’s one vote that neither David nor Ed can count on — their mother’s. Marion Kozak is a lifelong radical who will be casting her vote for Diane Abbott.