Miliband candidate to lead Britain's defeated Labour

Afp May 13, 2010

LONDON: Ex-foreign secretary David Miliband kicked off the race to succeed Gordon Brown as leader of Britain's Labour party on Wednesday, a potential poisoned chalice as it faces an uphill struggle to return to power.

Already the bookmakers' favourite, Miliband announced "with a deep sense of humility" his desire to lead the party as it begins what could be years in opposition against the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, is taking over as caretaker until a successor to Brown is chosen but has said she will not enter the race.

Instead, ex-schools secretary Ed Balls is expected to be Miliband's main contender, although Miliband's younger brother Ed could also stand. "I will be a candidate in that election," David Miliband told reporters. "I will be so with a deep sense of humility at the responsibility attached to the post but also great, great passion for the values and causes that brought me into the Labour party 27 years ago."

The 44-year-old said he wanted a "genuine, real contest, with many candidates", after Brown succeeded Tony Blair as Labour leader and prime minister in 2007 without a fight.

Brown's resignation Tuesday ended 13 years of Labour government and could spell years of opposition for the party, with the next election due in 2015 although that could come sooner if the fragile coalition in power collapses.

Miliband has long been touted as leadership material, although he bottled a tentative attempt to unseat Brown in 2008 and was left looking indecisive and, thanks to an unfortunate photograph of him holding a banana, foolish.

But after two years out of the domestic political fray, building up his experience and profile as foreign secretary a post that saw him mooted as a candidate for EU foreign affairs chief he is in a strong position. Miliband worked closely with former prime minister Tony Blair, both as head of policy before Labour was elected to government in 1997 and after, until he was elected to parliament in 2001.

He became environment secretary in 2006 and then foreign secretary in 2007, a rapid rise through the ranks that was testament to his intellect, although critics say he lacks grassroots support. Veteran Labour minister Alan Johnson is among his backers, saying Miliband was a "remarkable politician".

His likely opponent is Balls, the 43-year-old schools secretary who worked closely with Brown for a decade before being elected to parliament in 2005. Educated at Oxford and Harvard universities, Balls was Brown's economic advisor for the three years before Labour took office and for seven years after that while Brown was finance minister.

Balls is thought to be consulting colleagues about a likely campaign. The dark horse who bridges the "Blairite" and "Brownite" camps in Labour is Miliband's younger brother Ed, who has emerged as a serious player since becoming energy and climate change secretary in 2008.

Although a long-standing member of Brown's inner circle, he often acted as emissary between the two camps, although many commentators believe he does not yet have the internal support or profile to make a leadership bid. Another likely candidate is Jon Cruddas, a left-wing lawmaker who did surprisingly well in the 2007 race for the deputy leadership.

Labour's ruling National Executive Committee will meet in the coming days and weeks to set out a timetable for choosing a new leader. Candidates are chosen from a ballot of three electoral colleges, made up of Labour lawmakers and members of the European Parliament; individual party members; and affiliated organisations, including unions. They need the backing of 12.5 percent of the party's MPs to stand, currently 33 supporters.


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