Ed Miliband elected leader of Britain's Labour Party

26th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's opposition Labour Party on Saturday chose Ed Miliband as its new leader by a knife-edge margin over his better-known older brother David.

The former climate change minister won by 50.65 percent to 49.35 percent for ex-foreign secretary David, who had been the frontrunner up until the final days of the four-month contest.

Although most lawmakers and party members backed David in the three-way ballot, Ed Miliband received a boost from the trade unions, who provide most of the party's funding.

The leadership race was triggered by former prime minister Gordon Brown's resignation after Labour's heavy defeat in the May general election.

In his acceptance speech, Miliband promised to unite the party after the divisions that characterised Labour's 13 years in power, caused by the bitter rivalry between former premiers Tony Blair and Brown.

The left-leaning 40-year-old, formerly part of Brown's inner circle, faces a battle to remould the centre-left party as a government-in-waiting.

He pledged to take the fight to Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and offer an alternative to its plans for slashing public spending quickly to tackle a record deficit.

"Today's election turns the page because a new generation has stepped forward to serve our party, and in time I hope to serve our country. Today the work of the new generation begins," Miliband said.

"I am proud of the leadership of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown but we lost the election, and we lost it badly.

"And my message to the country is this -- I know we lost trust, I know we lost touch, I know we need to change."

Miliband's campaign had reached out to Labour's traditional working-class supporters, and his victory was greeted with huge cheers from delegates gathered for the result in Manchester, northwest England.

David Miliband jumped to his feet and grabbed his brother in an emotional embrace.

Ed Miliband responded in his speech, saying: "David, I love you so much as a brother and I have extraordinary respect for the campaign that you ran... we all know how much you have to offer this country in the future."

Speaking afterwards, David Miliband said he was "genuinely delighted for him, because if I can't win, then he should lead the party".

Both men refused to say whether David would take a job under his brother.

Miliband only became a member of parliament in 2005 and was the energy and climate change secretary in the last government.

One of his biggest challenges now is how to respond to major spending cuts planned by Cameron's coalition, and whether to support trade union plans for coordinated strike action in response.

Miliband said: "We must reduce the deficit but I believe we must do so much more than that to have an economy working in the interests of the hard-working people of this country."

He will set out his vision Tuesday in a speech to the party's annual conference, which begins here Sunday.

Cameron congratulated Miliband, but Conservative party chair Sayeeda Warsi said Labour appeared to be abandoning the centre ground, with their new leader "put into power by union votes".

Tessa Jowell, a former minister, welcomed Ed Miliband's election despite supporting David's campaign.

"I'm very encouraged by his drive for uniting the party, bringing everyone together, and there was a palpable will from everyone in the conference hall for everyone to do that," she told AFP.

Among the delegates, Chris Hill, an 18-year-old student, added: "People say David Miliband was the most prime ministerial of the candidates but I think Ed will grow into the role.

"He can reach out to young people. He talks a language that people can understand."

Former education secretary Ed Balls finished third in the race, ahead of ex-health secretary Andy Burnham and leftwing outsider Diane Abbott.

© 2010 AFP

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