Britain’s opposition Labour Party elects Ed Miliband as new leader in close run vote

By David Stringer, AP
Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ed Miliband elected new leader of UK Labour Party

LONDON — Britain’s opposition Labour Party elected young lawmaker Ed Miliband as its surprise new leader Saturday, after he narrowly defeated his elder and better-known brother in a close run contest to replace ousted prime minister Gordon Brown.

The siblings shared an emotional embrace after Miliband, 40, squeezed out David Miliband, the 45-year-old former foreign secretary, in a ballot of legislators, party activists and about 3.5 million labor union members.

Miliband pledged to reunite his wounded party, deposed in May after 13 years in office by the Conservative Party-led coalition government, and promised a role for his beaten brother — who struggled to hide his disappointment as he watched his younger sibling make a victory speech.

The Labour Party said Ed Miliband took 175,519 votes to David Miliband’s 147,220, after second, third and fourth choice preferences of those who voted for three other beaten candidates were allocated in a final runoff. Results showed that backing from labor unions had been decisive in the younger Miliband’s victory, and that his elder brother had won more support among legislators and ordinary party members.

The winner, a former adviser to Brown and previously the country’s energy and climate change secretary, acknowledged he must restore public faith in his party following its defeat in Britain’s national election. Miliband — who became a legislator in 2005 and took charge of the election manifesto — said the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in particular had dented trust in the Labour Party.

“My message to the country is this — I know we lost trust, I know we lost touch, I know we need to change. Today, a new generation has taken charge of Labour, a new generation that understands the call to change,” Miliband told activists at a rally in Manchester, northern England.

Former education secretary Ed Balls, the third placed candidate in the contest, said contenders were told of the result backstage shortly before the decision was announced publicly. “David and Ed hugged straight away,” Balls said.

As he addressed activists, the younger Miliband offered a tribute to his brother, who had long been expected to succeed Brown, but previously refused calls to oust the ex-leader ahead of the May election.

“David, I love you so much as a brother and I have such extraordinary respect for the campaign that you ran,” Miliband said, watched by partner Justine Thornton, a lawyer who is pregnant with the couple’s second child.

Both men selected the other as their second choice candidate, voting results showed. Addressing his elder brother directly in his speech, Ed Miliband said: “We all know how much you have to offer this country in the future.”

In an e-mail to campaign staff, David Miliband urged his supporters to rally behind his brother. “I passionately want Ed to have a united party,” Miliband wrote in the message, according to legislator Keith Vaz, a member of his team.

The three other defeated candidates, Balls, ex-health secretary Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott, a veteran leftist, all pledged their backing to the winning Miliband.

Party stalwarts urged the Miliband brothers to avoid the animosity of their respective mentors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, whose feuding marred the party’s final years in office. “These are brothers. They’re blood brothers. They can’t afford to fall out in the way we had with Tony and Gordon, and neither can we,” said ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Brown addressed activists ahead of the announcement and took responsibility for the party’s election defeat.

“I take the whole fault on my shoulders alone,” the former prime minister said.

Prime Minister David Cameron offered his congratulations to Ed Miliband in a phone call, but had earlier dismissed the challenge from both Milibands in an interview. He said neither man had alternative remedies to fix Britain’s fragile economy.

“They’re both part of the team that got us into this mess. In this long leadership debate I haven’t heard a single suggestion about how we might deal with the deficit,” Cameron was quoted as telling the Daily Telegraph.

Ed Miliband was criticized during the campaign for setting out policies advocated by the party’s leftist labor union backers, including a sharp rise in Britain’s minimum wage, higher taxes for top earners and a more punishing levy on banks. Opponents have dubbed him “Red Ed,” seeking to portray the new chief as a left-wing radical.

Miliband must quickly draw up an alternative to a five-year austerity plan being outlined next month by Treasury chief George Osborne, who is seeking savings of 30 billion pounds ($44 billion) per year in order to clear the country’s debts.

The new leader will make a major address to the party’s annual rally on Tuesday, and will seek to build on recent opinion poll gains.

A ComRes poll published on Sept. 19 put Labour on 35 percent, 2 points behind the Conservatives on 37 percent. The Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partner, were on 15 percent. The survey questioned 2,028 people. No margin of error was given, but in samples of a similar size it is plus or minus 2 percent.

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