Britain's new Labour leader rejects 'lurch to the left'

26th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Newly-elected Labour leader Ed Miliband insisted he would not drag the British opposition leftwards in his bid to steer the party back to power, as their annual conference started Sunday.

Miliband defeated his better-known older brother David, the former foreign secretary, in a dramatic verdict on Saturday, winning the leadership battle by just 50.65 percent to 49.35 percent.

The 40-year-old Londoner was helped over the finish line by strong support from trade union members, but said he was not in hoc to the unions.

He vowed he would not veer the party leftwards as he tries to bring down Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-Liberal governing coalition.

"I am nobody's man -- I am my own man," he told BBC television in his first full interview as opposition leader.

"It is not about some lurch to the left, absolutely not. I am for the centre-ground of politics, but it is about defining where the centre ground is."

He pledged to take the fight to the coalition and its plans for slashing public spending quickly to tackle the record deficit run up under Labour.

"Our journey will be hard and it will take time," Miliband wrote in The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

"We will need to learn the right lessons about our record in government; we will need to be a responsible opposition and we will need to set out a constructive alternative to the government."

The centre-left party suffered a heavy defeat in May's general election, prompting former prime minister Gordon Brown to resign as party head.

In the subsequent leadership contest, David Miliband, 45, won the majority of votes from lawmakers and party members in the three-way ballot, but his kid brother won big support from the trade unions, who provide most of Labour's funding.

Miliband promised to unite the party after the bitter rivalry between former premiers Tony Blair and Brown that characterised New Labour's 13 years in power from 1997.

"The era of New Labour is past. A new generation has taken over and it's not about the old labels any more," Miliband said on Sunday.

Going forward, Miliband will need to accommodate his brother's more Blairite support base among party members and fellow lawmakers, with no certainty that David will serve under his younger brother.

"He needs time to think about the contribution he can make," Ed said.

Cameron congratulated Miliband, but Conservative party chair Sayeeda Warsi led the charge in painting him as the unions' man.

Having reached out to Labour's traditional working-class supporters in his leadership campaign, several conservative newspapers also dubbed Miliband "Red Ed".

But he told the BBC that the tag was "tiresome and also rubbish".

"My aim is to show that our party is on the side of the squeezed middle in our country and everyone who has worked hard and wants to get on," Miliband wrote in The Sunday Telegraph.

"My aim is to return our party to power. This is a tough challenge. It is a long journey. But our party has made the first step in electing a leader from a new generation."

A long-term Brown aide, Miliband became a member of parliament in 2005 and was appointed Brown's energy and climate change secretary.

He will set out his vision on Tuesday in his speech to the party's five-day annual conference in Manchester, northwest England.

Sunday's opening day looks back at the general election defeat, the lessons that can be drawn from it and reforming the party to win the next election, slated for 2015.

Former Treasury minister Stephen Timms said that being the leader of the opposition could be a tougher job than being prime minister.

He told AFP: "He's got a big job ahead of him now but he's up for it and he's up to it."

© 2010 AFP

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