The battle that comes to a head tomorrow between the Miliband brothers to lead the opposition to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron highlights the past divisions within the Labour Party and the fight for its future direction.
Polls and bookmakers suggest David Miliband, a protege of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, will beat his younger brother Ed, a former aide to Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, in the five-candidate leadership race, whose winner will be announced on the eve of the party conference in Manchester. Yet the nature of Labour’s electoral system still gives Ed a chance to win by picking up more second-preference votes as others are eliminated.
Whoever wins will have just 25 days to marshal an opposition team and prepare a strategy for attacking Cameron’s government when it outlines on Oct. 20 how it will reduce spending. The party may be buoyed by a boost in the polls since the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats took power after the May 6 election, leaving Labour the only national opposition force.
“It’s going to be a baptism of fire for whoever wins,” Mark Wickham-Jones, a professor of politics at Bristol University, said in a telephone interview. “They have to get the party under control and adjust it to a new strategy that takes into account why Labour lost the election.”
The other candidates included former Children’s Secretary Ed Balls, once the closest adviser to Brown, who resigned as prime minister and Labour leader after the election. The field was completed by former Health Secretary Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott, who in 1987 became the first black woman in Parliament.
How They Vote
Labour’s electoral college is split into three, with lawmakers, union members and party cardholders each making up a third. Voters list candidates in order of preference, with the candidate getting fewest votes in each round eliminated, and further choices redistributed until one candidate has more than 50 percent of the votes. Voting ended Sept. 22.
The race is Labour’s first contested leadership election since 1994, when Blair won the party’s backing following the sudden death of John Smith. Brown replaced Blair in 2007 without a challenge.
In his memoir “A Journey,” published Sept. 1, Blair said that his agreement with Brown that only one of them would run for leader in 1994 sowed the seeds for battles over policy that came to dominate his premiership. Brown was increasingly at odds with Blair’s favored approach of bringing more competition into the provision of public services such as health.
The Milibands were on opposite sides, with David, 45, working for Blair as a proponent of “New Labour” while Ed, 40, was in the Treasury with Brown. Ed has cited his experience of the feud as a justification for running against his brother -- something unprecedented in modern British politics -- and disputing policy openly.
David argued during the leadership campaign the party must leave the Blair-Brown era behind to become “Next Labour,” renewing its ideas, doubling its membership and ensuring one third of its ministers-in-waiting are female.
Ed said Labour should reach out more to unions, the voluntary sector, community and environmental groups. He also said he wants to move away from the old divisions and supports more women at the top of the party.
“It’s very odd. You think what’s going on with these two? Ed must have come under a lot of pressure not to stand,” Steven Fielding, director of the Centre for British Politics at Nottingham University, said in a telephone interview. “For the sake of the party in the short term, it might be better if Ed lost. I wonder how David will take it if his kid brother wins.”
‘I Love David’
Speaking to the Sunday Mirror newspaper last month, the brothers denied suggestions the contest had created a rift between them. “I love David very much and I still will when this is over,” the Mirror cited Ed as saying.
David, nicknamed “Brains” when he served in the former prime minister’s policy unit, became a lawmaker for the northeastern district of South Shields in 2001. He entered the Cabinet four years later, serving as environment secretary and then moving to the Foreign Office. He argued Labour lost in May because voters weren’t convinced it was committed to Blair’s ideas to improve public services.
Ed entered Parliament in 2005, winning election in Doncaster in northern England. He joined the Cabinet in 2007, became energy secretary the following year and wrote Labour’s election program. His attacks on Blair’s policies, including the Iraq War, helped him win the backing of six labor unions and led the Daily Mail newspaper to dub him “Red Ed.”
‘End the Backstabbing’
“The crucial question for Labour now is can they end the backstabbing within the party that was endemic from the late 1990s onwards,” said Wickham-Jones.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will set out his plans for spending cuts on Oct. 20 as the nation seeks to tackle the worst budget deficit since World War II. The next election is planned for 2015.
“The first job of the new leader will be to exploit the fact that by far the most damaging factor attached to the coalition is that people perceive that they don’t take the concerns of those in lower-income brackets to heart,” Andrew Hawkins, chairman of polling company ComRes Ltd., said in a telephone interview. “Whoever wins needs to make Labour the party of the ordinary punter.”