Race to lead U.K. Labor Party could include David Miliband and Ed Miliband
Thursday, May 13, 2010; 5:36 PM
LONDON -- It is the way of things in politics. One election campaign ends, another begins.
After a hard-fought election last week ushered in Britain's first coalition government since World War II -- an unlikely alliance between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats -- the odd man out is already gearing up for what could be an epic internal leadership fight.
In the wake of Labor's defeat, losing prime minister Gordon Brown immediately stepped down as head of the party. The race to replace him may now literally pit brother against brother. On Wednesday, only a few hours after the new prime minister, David Cameron, walked into No. 10 Downing Street, David Miliband, Brown's foreign minister, announced his intention to run for Labor's top post. But the 44-year-old Miliband, once described by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as "vibrant," "vital" and "attractive," may find his toughest competitor in his brother, Ed Miliband, 40, Brown's point man on global warming.
The younger Miliband has remained cagey about his intentions. But a Web site set up by supporters shows him standing regally, in suit and tie, amid a field of golden grain, windmills in the background to emphasize his "green" credentials. Banner type at the top of the site reads, "Ed Miliband for Labor Party Leader."
The elder Miliband spent Thursday campaigning hard in Worcester, in central England, where he declared that the party had not heeded the voters enough on key issues such as immigration and fat welfare rolls. But most reporters focused their questions on the prospect of a Cain-and-Abel-style political smackdown.
"We have talked very frankly and openly to each other, because we love each other as brothers," David Miliband told the BBC on Thursday. "He is going to have to make his own decision about whether he is going to run."
Either way, though, Miliband said, "brotherly love will survive, because brotherly love is more important than politics."
The better-known elder Miliband is seen as more of a free-market proponent in the vein of Tony Blair, who shifted Labor from left to center in the 1990s. Ed Miliband is also a centrist, but he appears more popular across the party's political spectrum, including with the labor unions who are sometimes decisive in Labor's leadership struggles.
The timing of the vote remains uncertain. Brown's deputy, Harriet Harman, is acting party chief, but she has said she will not seek the job and has called for an internal election by July. Alan Johnson, Brown's domestic affairs minister, had been tipped to run but opted out this week and backed David Miliband.
A Miliband -- whether David or Ed -- is seen as the early front-runner. But either brother could face stiff competition outside the bloodline. Ed Balls, a former journalist and Brown's education minister, has strongly suggested he may run, and his vision of a paternal state has won him more friends on the party's left. Potentially harder to fend off would be a bid by Andy Burnham, Brown's photogenic health minister, whose self-made-man success story and Merseyside accent have made him popular inside and outside the Labor Party elite.
Whoever prevails will take over a party that, under Brown, just suffered its worst electoral defeat in 80 years. But that may not be as bad as it seems. The party remains a strong minority in Parliament, and it ceded power to a coalition government that must now try to force through Britain's toughest budget cuts since World War II.
"Now they can regroup in opposition after bequeathing to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats the unenviable task of getting Britain back in financial shape," said Tony Travers, professor of politics at the London School of Economics. "So for the Labor Party, it could be worse."