Skills minister David Lammy told a crowded Town Hall room in Manchester that if Labour was "just the party of public service reform only we will not win the next election".
But it must offer the public hope of change, he said at the Lessons from America: Can Hope Win? Fabian fringe.
Pollster Peter Kellner argued that he did not want "politicians who listen to the public, he wanted politicians who led the public".
He said: "I don't think Gordon's personality is the core of the problem of the moment...nor do I think a major change would do much good".
Newsweek writer Stryker McGuire thought: "Some people are better equipped to move a movement than others."