Britain's Labor Party elects pro-union Ed Miliband to succeed Gordon Brown

By Anthony Faiola
Saturday, September 25, 2010; 8:47 PM

LONDON - The fraternal fight to lead Britain's Labor Party culminated Saturday with Ed Miliband, a 40-year-old pro-union darling, narrowly defeating his older brother to become the new face of the British opposition.

Labor has limped along since May, when it suffered its worst political defeat in decades, forcing its former chief, Gordon Brown, to surrender the keys to No. 10 Downing Street to the Conservative Party's David Cameron. Since then, Labor has struggled to find a fresh voice and message as it navigates its role in the opposition for the first time in 13 years.

That voice will now come from Miliband, who topped his better-known and more accomplished brother, David, by a margin of 50.65 percent to 49.35 percent in the party's complex vote tally Saturday.

Like a political version of tennis's Williams sisters, the younger Ed leapfrogged David, taking what had seemed his preordained place at the top of British politics. Whereas David Miliband - the front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton once described as "vital" and "attractive" - held the senior job of foreign minister in Brown's cabinet, Ed Miliband had a comparatively junior role as climate-change chief.

But as his campaign gained strength, he showed himself to be a politician more emotive, more everyman than his overtly ambitious older brother.

Now it will be the younger Miliband charged with leading, and rebuilding, the Labor Party.

Miliband, who some fear could tilt the party back to the left and away from the "new Labor" centrist line put forward by Tony Blair in the 1990s, came out on top by successfully tapping a segment of the party that had been long ignored: unions.

Labor's convoluted balloting process grants unions, along with elected Labor politicians and other key constituents, a significant say in who wins the party's leadership. The younger Miliband - who appealed to the unions more than his generally pro-business brother and three other challengers - secured their overwhelming support. After results were announced, and following the congratulatory embrace with his brother, Miliband vowed to rebuild Labor in a fresh mold.

"I do believe this country is too unequal," he said. He later added, "We must have a society that upholds and protects things beyond the bottom line."

He will now go against Cameron in the pits of the British Parliament, where a tradition of verbal jousting will shape Miliband's image with the public. He has been more skeptical than his brother about the massive budget cuts proposed by the new ruling coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and many say he may oppose them more forcefully now. He has also called for an increase in the minimum wage, higher taxes on the rich, and other policies aimed at addressing the growing gap between rich and poor.

But his election might complicate attempts to rebuild the Labor vote, which crumbled under Brown. Opinion polls showed that David Miliband, a photogenic 45-year-old, was better poised for the task, being more popular with the public at large. The elder Miliband was also seen as an heir to Blair, with whom he helped craft Labor's shift from the left to the middle of British politics.

"But now you are going to see a man who was elected by the unions and the left of the party in a position where he also needs to appeal to the centrist voters who will win elections," said Tony Travers, a political analyst with the London School of Economics. "Given who his supporters are, that is going to be more of a challenge."

Miliband's first priority will be to smooth over party divisions, including persuading his brother to stay on as one of his top aides. Though the elder Miliband has suggested he would not abandon his brother if he lost the vote, party insiders have speculated he might stick around only six months or so before forging a new path away from politics.

The son of the noted Marxist academic and Holocaust survivor Ralph Miliband, the Oxford-educated Ed Miliband was elected to Parliament just five years ago, becoming energy and climate-change chief under Brown. His biggest moment came during the Copenhagen climate-change summit in December, when Britain and other European powers were largely sidelined in a much-criticized pact forged primarily through an agreement between the United States and China.

"The critical concern most people have is that he is quite untested," said Raymond Duch, professor of politics at Oxford University.

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