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Ed Miliband presents new vision in first speech as Labour chief

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-09-28

Three days after defeating his older brother in a tight leadership race, Ed Miliband heralded a "new generation" in British politics in his first speech Tuesday as Labour Party chief at the party conference in Manchester.

New British opposition leader Ed Miliband set out his political vision Tuesday at the opening of the Labour Party’s annual conference in Manchester, promising a break from the “tired thinking” of the old guard even as he acknowledged the contributions of his predecessors, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Miliband was speaking just 72 hours after being elected leader of the opposition Labour Party, when he narrowly beat his older brother David, who was the early favourite.

On a marked note, and maybe in an effort to dispel any rumours of a division between the two brothers, he told the conference “what an extraordinary person” David was.

Miliband also sought to introduce himself to the public at large with the speech, perhaps in an acknowledgment of the fact that he’s not widely known in the UK, having only been in Parliament for four years. He talked about his family, who fled the Nazis during the Second World War before settling in Britain, and even cracked a few jokes.

In an hour-long speech, Miliband praised the achievements of the last Labour government, but he also told the party faithful that they had to face "painful truths" that some policies, such as the Iraq War, were "wrong".

"I do believe we were wrong. Wrong to take Britain into war and we need to be honest about that," said Miliband.

'Red Ed' sets out centrist path

The 40-year-old, who was energy secretary and a former aide to Brown, has been given nicknames by the media ranging from "Red Ed" - for his supposed left-wing policies - and "Forrest Gump" for his geeky demeanour.

But in his speech Tuesday, Miliband insisted Labour must hold the centre ground, warning the trade unions who had supported his leadership bid against "irresponsible" strikes.

Labour was voted out of power after 13 years in the May election and was replaced by a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition that has put budget cuts high on its agenda, sparking concerns among some Britons.

Addressing these concerns on Tuesday, Miliband stressed that he "strongly" believed that Britain's record deficit needed to be reduced, and pledged to not oppose ‘every’ spending cut proposed by the coalition government.

But, he added, the Labour Party stood for job creation and growth, rather than an “irresponsible” obsession with deficit reduction.

“We should not make a bad situation worse by embarking on cuts that will endanger the
recovery,” he said, adding that “no plan for growth means no plan for deficit reduction.”

The ‘party of enterprise’ addresses immigration

Miliband conceded as well that the Labour Party had lost the trust of small business, and was determined to “become the party of enterprise” once more.

He spoke of the issue of immigration driving down wages, and the fears this had created
in working class communities, usually the bedrock of Labour support.

While acknowledging the problem – a shortcoming that critics say have driven many working class voters to right-wing parties like the British National Party (BNP) - he insisted that a addressing the issue should not alter Britain’s traditional appreciation of migrant workers.

Reminding the conference of his own family’s immigrant history, he insisted that "employers should never be allowed to exploit migrant labour to undercut people's wages."

A new poll in right-leading The Sun newspaper put Labour ahead of the Conservatives for the first time since Brown's brief honeymoon after taking over as prime minister in 2007.

Pollsters YouGov put Labour on 40 percent, the Tories on 39 percent, with the Liberal Democrats, their coalition partners in government, way down at 12 percent. YouGov interviewed 1,948 adults on Sunday and Monday.

Date created : 2010-09-25

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