Brothers go head-to-head for leadership of Britain's Labour

1st September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Voting starts Wednesday to elect a new leader of Britain's Labour party, with former foreign secretary David Miliband tipped to succeed Gordon Brown, months after it was ousted from power after 13 years.

The contest, whose result will be announced the day before the party's conference next month, could be overshadowed by the publication of former prime minister Tony Blair's memoirs on the same day.

Ballot papers have been sent out to some 160,000 Labour party members, who have a third of the votes, Labour lawmakers in the British and European parliaments who have another third and trade unionists who get the last chunk.

David Miliband faces a strong challenge from his younger brother Ed in the race, triggered when Brown quit in May following Labour's first general election defeat since 1992.

At 45 the elder of the two, David Miliband was foreign secretary under Brown but is seen as being closer to Blair, to whom he was a top policy advisor before being elected as a lawmaker in 2001.

Ed Miliband, 40, was Brown's climate change and energy secretary and previously served him as an advisor.

The rivalry between them has dominated the race and has been labelled a "soap opera" by another of the candidates, former education secretary Ed Balls.

The others in the contest are left-winger Diane Abbott and Andy Burnham, a former health secretary.

David Miliband seems to be ahead at this stage -- according to a projection last week for leading Labour blog Left Foot Forward, he has around 36 percent of first preference votes while Ed Miliband has 31 percent, while Balls, Abbott and Burnham all have around 11 percent.

The older Miliband also has the endorsement of 11 of the 21 members of the shadow cabinet, including former finance minister Alistair Darling and former justice secretary Jack Straw, the Guardian reported.

However, his brother has strong backing from the trade unions, which crucially provide much of cash-strapped Labour's funding.

Although neither Blair nor Brown have said who they will support in the leadership election, Blair launched a strong defence of New Labour -- the project to take the left-wing party closer to the centre ground which he spearheaded in the 1990s -- in his memoir, "A Journey", out Wednesday.

This could be interpreted as an implicit endorsement of David Miliband, who has endorsed New Labour.

Blair said Labour under Brown lost the general election in May because it "stopped being New Labour" under his leadership.

"The danger for Labour now is that we drift off, or even move decisively off, to the left," he said.

"If we do, we will lose even bigger next time. We have to buck the historical trend and face up to the reasons for defeat squarely and honestly."

Ed Miliband by contrast has said: "Remaining in the New Labour comfort zone would consign us to opposition."

The result will be announced on September 25, the day before Labour's annual conference begins in Manchester, northwest England.

© 2010 AFP

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