What now for Britain′s Labour Party? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.09.2010
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What now for Britain's Labour Party?

Labour's new party chief Ed Miliband has declared an end to the era of 'New Labour.' But where now for the party that lost four million voters between 1997 and 2010? And can Miliband win the support of the middle class?

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband must now distance himself from his own kingmakers

Two days into his leadership, Ed Miliband proclaimed a new era for Britain's opposition Labour Party.

During a Labour Party conference in Manchester, the new leader declared an end to the centrist "New Labour" movement rung in by former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"New Labour was right for its time ... but it came to be associated with a particular style and nature of politics," the former energy minister told his party.

Miliband - dubbed by his Conservative opponents as "Red Ed" -wanted to signal that Labour had "cut itself off from its Blairite past, that it's a new start for the Labour Party," according to Tony Travers, director of the London School of Economics' LSE research center.

An end to the fraternal 'soap opera'

Ed Miliband won the party leadership on Saturday after a five-month, neck-and-neck contest against his brother, the former foreign secretary David Miliband, five years his senior.

David Miliband threw his full support behind his victorious younger brother and urged Labour delegates in Manchester to end their "soap-opera" politics.

Speculation flew on Monday at Labour's Manchester conference as to what role David Miliband would take within the party, a question with which the older of the two brothers appeared to be grappling himself.

David and Ed Miliband

While David Miliband's future remains unclear, his full support is behind his brother

The brother to the left

Although many see the two brothers as politically identical, Ed Miliband's campaign platform leaned further left than his brother's, appealing to Labour's traditional working-class supporters.

Ed Miliband's less-than-two-percent victory over his brother came on the back of support from labor union members, while David Miliband garnered support from parliament and more middle-class party members.

Ed Miliband has aligned himself with the working class, supporting so-called "living wage" pay, as an increase to minimum-wage pay. He favors a "graduation tax," as well, which would see tax money from well-earning university graduates supporting Britain's universities.

"He's also talked about a commission that should look at high earnings," said Thomas Kielinger, London correspondent for the German national newspaper Die Welt. "He's toying with the idea of leveling off the huge differences in earnings that you find in Britain."

David Miliband with Hillary Clinton

Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband had been the frontrunner

Between a rock and a hard place

Ed Miliband succeeds Gordon Brown as chief of Labour at a rocky time in the party's history. In May, after 13 years in government, Labour lost Britain's general election with only 29 percent of the vote. According to Kielinger, four million voters left Labour between 1997 and 2010.

In order to broaden his base, Miliband now faces the challenge of distancing himself from his unionist kingmakers without alienating their support.

"Whoever wants to come to power cannot afford to be merely left-wing, left-leaning with all these goodie-goodie subjects that people of lesser income would demand. He must be very careful he speaks to the middle ground," Kielinger said.

Ed Miliband was aware of this fact when he said in a BBC television interview that his leadership would not be "about some lurch to the left."

"I am for the center-ground of politics, but it is about defining where the center ground is," Labour's new chief said.

Upcoming austerity measures

In the days between October 4 and 7, Labour's parliamentary party is to present Miliband its choices for his shadow cabinet. Miliband must then assign posts to the elected cabinet members by October 10 - just 10 days before Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government releases its spending review.

Gordon Brown, left, and Tony Blair shake hands in front of a Union Jack

The rivalry between Brown and Blair dominated 'New Labour'

Recent opinion polls show that the British public understands the need for austerity measures. Miliband has indicated that he is ready to accept some of the cuts while oposing others.

And yet to challenge Cameron's coalition government, Miliband must convince the British public his nickname "Red Ed" is false - and that despite his family history: The Milibands' father, Ralph, was one of the leading Marxist theorists of his generation.

Author: David Levitz, Olly Barratt

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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