Nerdy Miliband steps up as UK election nears
Despite an awkward public image and the dark story of his rise to power, British opposition leader Ed Miliband is confounding critics ahead of an election that could make him prime minister.
The 45-year-old, long seen as a drag on the Labour party's chances and the target of leadership coup rumours just a few months ago, has matched up surprisingly well against Conservative leader David Cameron in the campaign.
"I've been underestimated at every turn," he said in a fiery exchange with a fearsome interviewer, Jeremy Paxman, during a TV grilling alongside Cameron last month.
"Hell yes I'm tough enough!" he added in response to another Paxman question in a session that one poll showed him winning by 25 percent to the prime minister's 24 percent.
Miliband still has no shortage of critics.
The right-wing press has branded him a diehard left-winger -- "Red Ed" -- while Cameron and others have upbraided him for the banking deregulation that occurred while he was working at the Treasury in the years before the financial crash of 2008.
Much has also been made of the fact that his house in London's well-off Dartmouth Park neighbourhood is big enough to have two kitchens, and of his much-mocked struggle to eat a man-of-the-people bacon sandwich in front of photographers.
For a man with a nasal voice who used to wear Harry Potter-style glasses and who is portrayed by The Guardian's cartoonist as a grinning "Wallace" from "Wallace & Gromit", the geek image is hard to shake off.
- Healing rift -
Perhaps most damaging, however, is the family rift that the fiercely ambitious Miliband created by taking on and beating his older brother David, a protege of former prime minister Tony Blair, for the Labour party leadership in 2010.
Miliband himself said recently that the divisions are now "healing", although his brother -- who left Britain for the United States shortly after -- has been conspicuously absent during the campaign.
His biographers Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre said it was seen by some "as an almost biblical act of fratricide".
Miliband has admitted the contest was "bruising" for both brothers but has portrayed it as a break with Blair's "New Labour" politics and has sought to return the party closer to its left-wing roots.
The course set by Miliband and his lack of experience outside Westminster politics have many businesses concerned about the prospect of a Labour government -- as reflected in an open letter signed by 100 executives during the campaign.
Miliband has defended himself as standing up to big business and the rich on behalf of the millions of Britons left struggling after years of austerity.
His opposition to a referendum on European Union membership, however, has support in the business community, as do his pledges to help smaller companies.
When Labour were in power before 2010, Miliband worked for finance minister Gordon Brown, who had a famously prickly relationship with Blair and was seen as more left-wing than the prime minister.
- Steely backstabber? -
His family background has prepared him well for the ideological sparring that often occurs in a clannish Labour party.
The son of a prominent Marxist academic father and a campaigning activist mother, Miliband grew up in a highly politicised household where he and David were encouraged to take part from an early age in dinner parties attended by left-wing intellectuals from around the world.
His immigrant parents, both Jewish, lost many family members in the Holocaust.
They met at the London School of Economics (LSE) -- a hotbed of British leftist thinking -- in the early 1960s.
During his time at Oxford University, Miliband was also active in student politics and, after a brief stint as a political journalist, he rose quickly through the Labour's ranks.
He is married to a successful environmental lawyer, Justine Thornton, and they have two young sons.
"Despite the setbacks he has suffered, he never despairs. He is steely," said Iain Begg, a politics professor at the LSE.
"After all, he stabbed his brother in the back to take over the leadership of the Labour party. Not everyone could do that."
© 2015 AFP