Britain’s opposition Labour Party pits brother against brother as it elects new leader

By David Stringer, AP
Saturday, September 25, 2010

UK’s opposition Labour Party announces new leader

LONDON — Britain’s opposition Labour Party announces its new leader Saturday after a brother-versus-brother battle to replace ex-prime minister Gordon Brown who quit in the wake of a humbling election defeat.

Ex-foreign secretary David Miliband, 45, and his younger brother Ed Miliband, the 40-year-old former climate change secretary, are judged to be neck and neck in the race following a ballot of legislators, party activists and about 3.5 million members of affiliated labor unions.

Three other candidates have also competed in the contest to replace Brown, who stepped down in May after Labour trailed second in a national election and was removed from office after 13 years by the Conservative Party-led coalition government.

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock said he believed Ed Miliband had likely won the contest, while ex-Cabinet minister Douglas Alexander insisted the elder brother would emerge as the party’s new chief.

The siblings offer contrasting views on the future of their center-left party: David Miliband advocates largely standing by the centrist policies of his mentor Tony Blair, while his brother has sketched out a left-wing platform with proposals for a rise in Britain’s minimum wage, higher taxes for top earners and a more punishing levy on banks.

Also competing to replace Brown are former education secretary Ed Balls, ex-health secretary Andy Burnham, and Diane Abbott, a veteran leftist who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Since no one knows what the result is, I’d take with a very large pinch … of salt anything said by those who claim to know what the result is,” David Miliband told ITV News as he left his London home Saturday to travel to the announcement in Manchester, northern England.

Last week he told The Associated Press it had been “pretty odd — it’s an unusual situation,” to compete against his brother.

David Miliband favors a familiar pro-business agenda and has set out ideas on reforms for Britain’s education system and on reducing low-level crime. His brother is accused of going too far in seeking the support of leftist labor unions by suggesting the use of tax hikes and fewer spending cuts to clear Britain’s national debt — a move that would safeguard jobs of Labour loyalists in the public sector.

Prime Minister David Cameron said both his potential rivals had failed to offer an alternative to his coalition’s plans on the economy. “We have this biggest deficit in Britain’s peacetime history and they seem to have no answer,” Cameron was quoted as telling the Daily Telegraph in an interview.

“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,” he said.

Next month Treasury chief George Osborne will announce a five-year austerity plan aimed at saving 30 billion pounds ($44 billion) per year. The plan is the centerpiece of Cameron’s program for government — and likely to heavily influence the outcome of the next national election, due in 2015.

Labour’s new leader will be expected to quickly offer an alternative strategy, and is likely to set out some details of policy ideas in a brief speech Saturday, and in a major address to the party’s annual rally on Tuesday.

The freshly elected chief must also seek to continue opinion poll gains made by Labour since the party’s election defeat.

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.

will not be displayed