Ed Miliband elected new leader of Britain's Labour Party

25th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Former climate change minister Ed Miliband was elected the new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party on Saturday, beating his older brother David in a knife-edge race.

After a four-month contest triggered by Labour's heavy defeat in the general election, Ed Miliband won by 50.65 percent to 49.35 percent for David, the former foreign minister and one-time frontrunner.

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 prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

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

But 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 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."

Although his brother had led the race for party leader since it began, Ed Miliband enjoyed a last-minute surge following his campaign which reached out to Labour's traditional left-wing supporters.

As soon as the result was announced to Labour delegates gathered in a conference hall in Manchester, northwest England, David Miliband jumped to his feet and embraced his brother to huge cheers from the audience.

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 "obviously genuinely delighted for him, because if I can't win, then he should lead the party."

In the ballot, David Miliband won the majority of support from Labour lawmakers and party members, but his victorious younger brother had the backing of the powerful trade unions, which provide the bulk of the party's funding.

Ed Miliband also fought off competition from former education secretary Ed Balls, ex-health secretary Andy Burnham and leftwing outsider Diane Abbott.

Miliband only became a member of parliament in 2005 and held the post of secretary of state for energy and climate change in the last government.

One of his biggest challenges now is how to respond to drastic spending cuts planned by Cameron's coalition to rein in Britain's huge deficit. The government is to announce where the axe will fall on October 20.

He must also decide whether to support or oppose trade union plans for coordinated strike action against the cuts, and risk annoying union bosses or voters hostile to the action.

Miliband said: "I believe 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 to the party faithful on Tuesday in a speech to Labour's annual conference, which begins in Manchester Sunday.

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: "Once the cuts bite, that will be the telling moment for us in opposition. I really think that by 2015 Ed Miliband will be Britain's prime minister."

© 2010 AFP

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