Britain's Labour Party set to announce new leader

25th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's opposition Labour Party unveils its new leader Saturday after a hard-fought contest, which has come down to a fight between two brothers hoping to rejuvenate the centre-left group.

The field of five candidates to lead the party of former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has narrowed to a two-horse race between David and Ed Miliband, pitched firmly in the rival Blair and Brown camps.

Dumped out of office in May after 13 years in power, Labour's choice of leader will determine whether the party takes a more centrist or leftwing approach to tackling the Conservative-Liberal Democrat governing coalition.

Former foreign secretary David Miliband, a 45-year-old protege of Blair, has for most of the contest been the favourite to win the ballot of Labour lawmakers, party members and trade unionists.

But on the eve of the result, bookmakers said his left-leaning brother Ed, 40, the former energy and climate change minister and part of Brown's inner circle, had seen a last-minute surge of support and could win.

David Stevens, a spokesman for Coral bookmakers, told AFP Friday that Miliband junior had gained momentum in the final stretch of the race and was now favourite to become the next leader.

"Ed Miliband is now 2-5 and his brother is out to 7-4, which is basically a complete reversal of where we were 24 hours ago," said Stevens.

"All the indications would suggest that Ed Miliband is going to be declared the winner."

The new leader must give voters a credible alternative to Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, whose coalition government of former political foes emerged after Labour lost its majority at the general election in May.

The coalition has pledged drastic cuts to rein in Britain's huge deficit.

The new leader faces an immediate test, as the party starts its five-day annual conference in Manchester, northwest England, on Sunday to thrash out where it stands in the new political landscape.

Former education secretary Ed Balls and ex-health secretary Andy Burnham are 100/1 shots and leftwing outsider Diane Abbott is even further adrift.

Labour Party members had a third of the votes; Labour lawmakers in the British and European parliaments have another third, while trade unionists and affiliated groups get the last chunk. The polls closed Wednesday.

The Manchester conference is the first major party meeting since publication of Blair's political memoirs in early September.

In "A Journey", Blair pinned election defeat on Brown veering away from his "New Labour" path and warned the party now faces years in the wilderness.

© 2010 AFP

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