New British opposition leader cuts loose from Blair-Brown

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Britain's new opposition leader Ed Miliband vowed Tuesday to ditch the baggage of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and revamp the Labour Party to propel it back into power.

In his first major speech since taking over the centre-left party on Saturday, the 40-year-old said Labour could only "blame themselves" for losing office after 13 years in May's general election.

Labour's youngest ever leader told the party's annual conference in Manchester, northwest England, that he would bury the "old thinking" and take Labour on a journey of change.

"Let the message go out, a new generation has taken charge of Labour," Miliband said.

"I relish the chance to take on (Prime Minister) David Cameron. We may be of a similar age but in my values and ideals, I am of a different and new generation."

He said Labour must acknowledge its mistakes under prime ministers Blair and Brown -- including the highly divisive 2003 invasion of Iraq and the climate of financial deregulation behind the economic downturn.

And Miliband said it was no accident that the party had lost five million votes between its landslide victory in 1997 and its exit from power in 2010.

"I stand before you clear in my task: to once again make Labour a force that takes on established thinking, doesn't succumb to it, speaks for the majority and shapes the centre ground of politics," he said.

Miliband pledged to be a "responsible" opposition leader, saying he relished the chance to take on the "miserable, pessimistic" outlook of Cameron.

"We are the optimists in politics today," he said.

Tackling the record financial deficit run up under Labour has dominated British politics since Cameron's government came to power.

While Miliband said he would not oppose every cut put forward by Cameron's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, he said Britain should not "make a bad situation worse by embarking on a deficit reduction at a pace and in a way that endangers our recovery."

Labour's task in hammering out a new economic policy was underlined when the new government won praise from the International Monetary Fund on Monday for its programme of deep cuts in public spending.

In a dramatic result on Saturday, Miliband was elected Labour leader thanks to the votes of trade union members, narrowly edging out his elder brother, former foreign minister David, who was more popular with lawmakers and party members.

Miliband scoffed at his "Red Ed" nickname in some newspapers which expect him to drag Labour to the left and cash in on public sector unrest over the cuts.

He said he wanted to see "responsibility" from trade unions, and had "no truck with overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes. The public won't support them. I won't support them."

Besides establishing himself with the wider public, his speech was also an attempt to win over those who preferred his better-known brother -- he began his speech by paying tribute to David.

The Miliband family drama, which has dominated the conference, rumbled on with David Miliband refusing to reveal before Wednesday's deadline whether he will serve in Ed's top team.

Many members called for David to take the finance spokesman's brief, challenging the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition on its approach to reining in the deficit.

The showpiece speech came as a poll in The Sun newspaper put Labour ahead of the Conservatives for the first time since 2007.

Pollsters YouGov put Labour on 40 percent, the Tories on 39 percent, with the Liberal Democrats way down on 12 percent.

YouGov interviewed 1,948 adults on Sunday and Monday.

© 2010 AFP

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