Britain's Labour Party to appoint new leader

25th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's opposition Labour Party appoints its new leader on Saturday, after a four-month battle that has come down to a fight between two brothers hoping to guide the party back to power.

Five candidates are competing to replace ex-premier Gordon Brown, who resigned in May after his government was ousted in a general election that ended Labour's 13 years in office.

The result will be announced at about 4:45pm (1545 GMT) in Manchester, northwest England, where the Labour Party's annual conference begins on Sunday.

The field of candidates to lead the party of former prime minister Tony Blair has narrowed to a two-horse race between David and Ed Miliband, who are pitched in the rival Blair and Brown camps respectively.

Labour's choice of leader will determine whether the party takes a more centrist or leftwing approach to tackling Prime Minister David Cameron's 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.

However, 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, according to bookmakers.

David Stevens, a spokesman for Coral bookmakers, told AFP on 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 premier Cameron, whose coalition government of former political foes emerged after Labour lost its majority at the general election.

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

Labour's new boss will face an immediate test, as the party kicks off its five-day conference this weekend 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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