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Miliband brothers fight it out for Labour leadership

Text by Thibault Worth

Latest update : 2010-09-25

Britain's Labour Party is set to announce its new leader Saturday to fill the spot left by former PM Gordon Brown. Amongst a field of five candidates, one of the two Miliband brothers, Dave or Ed, is considered most likely to win.


The voting has closed and the counting has begun. Tomorrow afternoon, Britain will know who will lead the opposition Labour Party. After ex-prime minister Gordon Brown was forced to resign after the humiliating defeat to the Conservative and Liberal Democrat alliance at the election in May, the party has been leaderless and in flux.

Of the five candidates, David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott, the two Miliband brothers are currently neck and neck in the polls.

Two brothers, one political party, and both brothers have very different visions on how to steer the party back to power.

The result will determine whether the party keeps the centrist philosophy of former prime minister Tony Blair, or returns to its left-wing roots.

David Milliband, 45, is the establishment candidate, who was once seen as a shoe-in for the role. However, he has seen his lead eaten away in the final days of the race by his younger brother Ed.

Now the race is too close to call.

David, Blair’s former policy director, holds claim to the social and economic agenda of ‘New Labour’ and his former boss. But he is also associated with Blair’s highly-unpopular decision in the UK to back the Iraq War.

Ed, 40, the former government minister for energy and climate change, has rejected the “New Labour” brand in favour of a centre-Left, more union-friendly agenda.

But the brothers have downplayed any rivalry, saying they have an incredibly strong relationship. Like the Kennedy brothers in the United States, and Poland’s Kaczynski twins as president and premier, the relationship seems to be a complex balance of cooperation and competition.

"David is my best friend in the world. I love him dearly," Ed said when he launched his leadership campaign. Each brother has pledged to support the other should he win.


Politics is politics though. On Saturday, one brother will wreck the political ambitions of the other, with unpredictable consequences for the future of Labour, let alone the Miliband family itself.

In a docu-drama which aired Friday night on Britain’s Chanel 4, former Labour leader Lord Neil Kinnock said the brother’s relationship was under a lot more strain than has been aired publically.

"David's response to Ed running has, to my astonishment, been deeply resentful,” said Kinnock, who accused the elder Miliband of letting political snipes from his supporters go unchecked. “David's people are spreading all kinds of bloody bile about Ed being in thrall to the left and he would be in the pocket of the unions and all kinds of crap like that."

Still, if Ed pulls off an upset, analysts say David will likely take a break from the political limelight so as to avoid the awkwardness of being perceived as his brother’s thwarted rival.

The tale of these two brothers fighting it out for the leadership has captured the imagination of the British public and each twist and turn has been splashed across the front pages of the newspapers daily. "It's a great story," says Tim Horton, research director of the UK’s highly regarded Fabian Society think-tank.

Publically, however, the brothers have maintained that they are less concerned with defeating the other than in restoring Labour’s fortunes.

David is considered more the statesman, and is respected by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ed has the more likeable image, but is reportedly favoured by the Conservative party who sense vulnerability in his inexperience.

David’s leadership campaign focused on electability and wooing swing voters across the country. Ed, meanwhile, has campaigned on progressive causes such as climate change and civil liberties, and has arguably focussed on consolidating support in the grass roots of the party.

Still, there is no "huge ideological difference between them" according to Horton. The British like their politicians’ centrist, and tend not to tolerate deviation too far from the centre.

"We're choosing between two brands of moderate, social-democratic, pragmatic political thought," says Horton

Final days

Still, the rivalry between the brothers Miliband has captured the public imagination, especially in betting-crazy Britain. Bookmakers in the UK began calling the odds in Ed’s favour Friday morning.

“In the last 48 hours, the situation has changed,” said David Stevens, a spokesman for bookmaker Coral late Friday. “If the punters are right, Ed is going to win.”

Whatever happens Saturday, one thing is certain. The Miliband brothers are destined to loom large in British politics for years to come.


Date created : 2010-09-24

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