Ed Miliband will address the U.K.’s opposition Labour Party for the first time as leader tomorrow, seeking to win over the majority of lawmakers and activists who failed to back him.
The former energy secretary won the Labour leadership Sept. 25 on the eve of the party conference in Manchester, northwest England. He owed the victory to labor-union votes that gave him the edge over his older brother David, who was ahead among party members and parliamentarians. Miliband’s mentor, Gordon Brown, led Labour in May to its worst election result since 1983, ending 13 years in power, and the new leader needs to win back the voters who deserted the party then.
“An interesting question will be how he manages relations with his party -- they backed his brother fairly clearly,” said Andrew Russell, a senior lecturer in politics at Manchester University. “David was very much working on an expansive electoral strategy that Labour needed to reach out to voters. Ed was much more about regaining the core vote” of traditional working-class Labour supporters.
In his victory speech two days ago, Miliband, 40, focused his attention on those traditional backers, repeating “I get it” as he listed reasons they had turned their back on Labour. In an article in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper, he reached out to what he called “the squeezed middle” and their concerns over college and housing costs.
Miliband’s task if Labour is to gain enough backing to return to power is to balance the concerns of core voters and the wealthier supporters brought in by Brown’s predecessor, Tony Blair, according to Philip Cowley, co-author of “The British General Election of 2010,” to be published this week.
“The first thing the Labour Party needs to do is to understand just how bad the result was” at the May election, said Cowley. “The group where Labour suffered the largest drop in their support was the skilled working class. Gaining that group back -- whilst also not frightening off the more affluent voters which ‘New Labour’ managed to attract -- is going to be Ed Miliband’s largest challenge.”
Miliband used his first day in the job yesterday to reject suggestions he’s in thrall to the unions. He had 42 percent of their first-preference votes in the election, which he won by 50.65 percent to 49.35 percent in the final round of voting, after trailing in three previous rounds. His 45-year-old brother remained ahead in the other two sections of the electoral college throughout.
“It’s not about some lurch to the left; all these characterizations about ‘Red Ed’ are both tiresome and rubbish,” Miliband told BBC 1 television’s “Andrew Marr Show” yesterday. “I’m nobody’s man, I’m my own man and I’m very, very clear about that.”
Even so, Ed “won in a deeply problematic way, in deeply dubious circumstances,” according to Mark Wickham-Jones, professor of politics at Bristol University. “He might have perhaps five supporters in the shadow Cabinet -- most of them nominated David. The crucial thing is going to be David’s attitude.”
Ed said yesterday he hadn’t yet discussed with David what role he might play in Labour’s opposition team. “We haven’t got to that point yet,” he said. “He’s shown extraordinary graciousness to me both in public and in private. I love him very much. He can make a very big contribution to British politics.”
The Financial Times reported today that Ed had offered David the role of finance spokesman opposing Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, without saying where it got the information.
“Anyone who tells you anything about what they know of what I’ve decided is not telling you the truth because they don’t know,” David told reporters as he arrived at the conference today. “I came here on Saturday planning a slightly different week. Now I am thinking about what I should do instead.”
The new leader has just 23 days to prepare a strategy for attacking Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government when it outlines on Oct. 20 how it will reduce spending to narrow a record budget deficit. “I am not going to oppose every cut,” he told the BBC yesterday.
Instead, Miliband said, he is going to act as a “responsible” opposition leader, though he “broadly” supports Labour’s proposal at the election of trying to cut the deficit in half over four years as the “right starting point.”
Osborne set out plans in his budget in June to virtually eliminate the budget shortfall by 2015.
“It’s for the coalition to come forward with their proposals and I will examine them on their merits,” Miliband said. “Deficit reduction, yes, but at a cautious pace in a way that’s going to help our economy, not hinder it.”
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, who proposed halving the deficit over four years, said he was “encouraged” by Miliband’s approach to economic policy when he spoke to him yesterday.
“Having listened to Ed yesterday and having talked to him I’m greatly reassured that he’s realistic, he’s got a lot of common sense and is not going to do something that is irresponsible,” Darling said on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” show. “He knows the policies have to be credible and have to strike a chord with mainstream Britain. If we ever depart from that center ground we’ll be in difficulties.”
Neck and Neck
The son of Ralph Miliband, a Marxist intellectual who fled to Britain to escape from the Nazis in 1940, Ed was educated at Oxford University and the London School of Economics. From 1997 to 2002 he worked for Brown at the Treasury before going to the U.S. to teach economics at Harvard.
He 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 program for this year’s election. Miliband lives in London with his partner, Justine, and their son, and another child is due later this year.
A poll on Sept. 21 by YouGov Plc put Cameron’s Conservatives, the senior party in the coalition, neck and neck with Labour at 39 percent. Labour slumped to 29 percent of the vote in May, seven points behind the Tories. The next election is planned for 2015.