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

2nd September 2010, Comments 0 comments

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

Miliband's campaign was also in the spotlight as former prime minister Tony Blair published his memoirs, and made comments interpreted as supportive of his former advisor.

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

Ballot papers have been sent 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.

Results of the contest will be announced on September 25, the day before Labour's annual conference.

David Miliband, 45, was foreign secretary under Brown but is seen as closer to Blair and strongly associated with the New Labour years under him, when the left-wing party moved further to the centre ground.

Ed Miliband, 40, was Brown's climate change and energy secretary and previously served him as an advisor. In addition, he wrote Labour's manifesto for the May general election.

He wants to reach out to disillusioned Labour voters and has spoken against New Labour's market-friendly ideas following a steady decline in the party's popularity in the last decade.

The rivalry between the brothers has dominated the race and was labelled a "soap opera" by another of the candidates, former education secretary and staunch Brown ally 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.

Blair has refused to say who he supports for the leadership, although in a BBC interview Wednesday to promote his new autobiography, he said it was "fairly obvious".

David Miliband is seen as his protege -- Blair once described him as his "Wayne Rooney," after the English Premier League football star, and handed him his first ministerial job.

"The thing with the Labour party is always to be at the cutting edge of the future, it's got to be prepared to change and adapt," Blair told the BBC.

However, he wrote in his book that Labour under Brown lost the general election in May because it "stopped being New Labour".

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

His remarks were not welcomed by either of the main leadership candidates.

"I am my own person. I look forward to the day when Tony says he is a Milibandite rather than people asking me whether I'm a Blairite," David Miliband said during a TV debate with the other candidates late Wednesday.

His brother Ed added: "Unless we change we are not going to win again. So Tony was a great servant to us in the past, I don't think he's right about the future."

© 2010 AFP

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