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

26th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Newly-elected Labour leader Ed Miliband said Sunday he would not drag the British opposition party leftwards to steer it back to power, as its annual conference opened here.

The 40-year-old beat his older brother David to the party leadership by a whisker on Saturday thanks to strong backing from trade union members, but he insisted he was not in hock to organised labour.

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

Speaking from Manchester, northwest England, where Labour was holding its five-day annual party conference, he said: "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."

Miliband won the leadership race by 50.65 percent to 49.35 percent for his brother, the former foreign secretary, despite failing to win a majority of Labour lawmakers and party members.

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

Miliband has only been a lawmaker since 2005 but made his mark as Brown's energy and climate change secretary.

During his campaign for the leadership, he railed against wealth inequality and advocated increased taxation on banks and a higher minimum wage.

Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has now branded him a union puppet and some newspapers dubbed him "red Ed" -- a label Miliband said was "tiresome and also rubbish".

Labour's youngest-ever leader insisted he would stand up for people in "the squeezed middle in our country and everyone who has worked hard and wants to get on".

And 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 has vowed to unite Labour after the bitter rivalry between former premiers Tony Blair and Brown that characterised its 13 years in power, and to move past Blair's market-centric policies.

"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.

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

The BBC reported Miliband had asked his brother to be Labour's spokesman on finance -- a key post as Britain emerges from recession -- but he himself said only that David "needs time to think about the contribution he can make".

David Miliband also refused to comment, telling reporters: "This conference is not about jobs for me, this is about a new future for the Labour party."

He will address delegates here Monday as part of a discussion on foreign affairs, and has until Wednesday to say if he wants a job. The leader's new team is elected in a party ballot starting Thursday.

The conference began Sunday with cheers for Miliband as he took the leader's seat on the platform, two days before his keynote speech on Tuesday.

Ann Black, chair of the Labour party's governing body, formally congratulated him on his election, saying: "Whoever each of us personally supported for the leadership, we will all unite behind Ed Miliband.

"We expect and demand no less. With Ed's leadership we can and will win again."

© 2010 AFP

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