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 to steer the party back to power, as their annual conference started Sunday.

Miliband beat his older brother David to the party leadership by a whisker on Saturday thanks to strong backing from trade union members, but said he was not in hock to the unions.

The 40-year-old Londoner won the leadership battle by just 50.65 percent to 49.35 percent for his brother, the former foreign secretary, who had proved more popular with Labour lawmakers and party members.

A long-term aide and confidant of former prime minister Gordon Brown, Miliband was widely viewed as being further to the left and closer to the unions than his brother David.

Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-Liberal coalition has already branded Labour's youngest-ever leader as the unions' puppet, but Miliband insisted he would forge his own course.

"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."

Some Conservative-supporting newspapers have dubbed Miliband "Red Ed", but he said the tag was "tiresome and also rubbish".

Miliband also said he would stand for people in "the squeezed middle in our country and everyone who has worked hard and wants to get on".

He pledged to take the fight to the coalition and its plans for deep cuts in public spending 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 Brown to resign as prime minister and party leader.

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," he told the BBC.

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

The BBC reported that Ed Miliband had asked his brother to be Labour's spokesman on finance -- a key post given that Britain's recovery from recession is far from assured.

David "needs time to think about the contribution he can make," Miliband said.

A long-term Brown aide, Miliband became a member of parliament in 2005 and made his mark as 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.

The conference officially began Sunday with cheers for Miliband as he took the leader's seat on the platform and Ann Black, chair of the Labour party's governing body, formally congratulated him on his election.

"Whoever each of us personally supported for the leadership, we will all unite behind Ed Miliband. We expect and demand no less," she said.

"With Ed's leadership we can and will win again."

© 2010 AFP

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