Brothers fight to lead Britain's Labour Party into new era

23rd September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Two brothers battling for the leadershhip of Britain's Labour Party will find out Saturday which of them will be given the task of guiding the centre-left party back into government.

The field of five candidates to lead the party of former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has come down to a straight fight between David and Ed Miliband, pitched firmly in the rival Blair and Brown camps.

Dumped out of office in May after 13 years in power, Labour's choice of leader will determine whether the party takes a more centrist or left-wing approach to tackling the Conservative-Liberal Democrat governing coalition.

Former foreign secretary David Miliband, a 45-year-old protege of Blair, is the favourite to win the ballot of Labour lawmakers, party members and trade unionists when the result is announced on Saturday.

His more left-leaning brother Ed, 40, the former energy and climate change minister and part of Brown's inner circle, is considered his closest challenger.

Tim Horton, research director of the socialist Fabian Society think-tank, said the Milibands do not have the bitter rivalry that marked the Blair-Brown relationship.

"They don't quite embody their former masters," he told AFP.

"Both of them are collegiate politicans and I don't think either of them would have a problem serving under the leadership of their brother.

"I don't think there's a huge ideological difference between them," he added.

"Here we're choosing between two brands of moderate, social-democratic, pragmatic political thought."

The new leader must give voters a credible alternative to Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, whose coalition government of former political foes emerged after Labour lost its majority at the general election in May.

The coalition has pledged drastic cuts to rein in Britain's huge deficit.

"The Labour leader needs to hold the fragile coalition of the Labour Party together, while being an effective opposition, and also trying to win back traditional Labour voters and middle-class voters," said Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics.

"Essentially, they have to hunker down for the long haul and prepare for five years in opposition."

The new leader faces an immediate test, as the party starts its five-day annual conference in Manchester, northwest England, on Sunday to thrash out where it stands in the new political landscape.

Bookmakers have made David Miliband the odds-on favourite, with his brother's chances slightly worse than evens.

Former education secretary Ed Balls and ex-health secretary Andy Burnham are 100/1 shots and left-wing outsider Diane Abbott is even further adrift.

Labour Party members had a third of the votes; Labour lawmakers in the British and European parliaments have another third, while trade unionists and affiliated groups get the last chunk. The polls closed Wednesday.

The Manchester conference is the first major party meeting since publication of Blair's political memoirs in early September.

In "A Journey", Blair pinned election defeat on Brown veering away from his "New Labour" path and warned the party now faces years in the wilderness.

"The danger for Labour now is that we drift off, or even move decisively off, to the left. If we do, we will lose even bigger next time," he wrote.

Labour should "focus attention on renewing the party, and it has to do this in a genuinely radical and modern way.

© 2010 AFP

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