Miliband cuts loose from Blair, Brown

September 29, 2010 12:00 am

, MANCHESTER, Sep 28 – Britain\’s new opposition leader Ed Miliband vowed Tuesday to ditch the baggage of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and revamp the Labour Party to propel it back into power.

In his first major speech since taking over, the 40-year-old said Labour had only themselves to blame for losing office after 13 years in May\’s general election.

The centre-left party\’s youngest ever leader told their annual conference in Manchester, northwest England, that he would bury the "old thinking" and take Labour on a journey of change.

But a barbed comment by his elder brother David Miliband — who narrowly lost to Ed in the vote to become the Labour Party\’s new leader — risked overshadowing the keynote address.

"Let the message go out, a new generation has taken charge of Labour," Ed Miliband said, in a speech aimed at establishing a fresh face with British voters.

"This country faces some tough choices. And so do we. And we need to change.

"Above all, I lead a new generation not bound by fear or the ghosts of the past."

Since the leadership election Saturday, David and Ed Miliband have sought to put on a public show of unity.

But this was in danger of unravelling Tuesday after Ed Miliband said Labour must acknowledge its mistakes under prime ministers Blair and Brown — condemning the highly divisive 2003 invasion of Iraq as "wrong."

It was at this moment ex-foreign minister David was caught by ITV News on tape turning to deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman and saying: "You voted for it, why are you clapping?"

She replied: "I am clapping because as you know, I am supporting him."

The elder Miliband\’s remarks caught on tape contrasted sharply with his public reaction to the speech — he said Ed Miliband gave "a really strong speech… the speech of a conviction politician."

The Miliband brothers\’ leadership battle has turned into a self-confessed "soap opera", with David still refusing to reveal before Wednesday\’s deadline whether he will serve in Ed\’s top team.

David Miliband returned to his London home late Tuesday from Manchester two days before the end of the conference, heightening speculation that he would not join his brother\’s team as a frontbench spokesman.

In his speech earlier, the new Labour leader said it was no accident that the party had lost five million votes between its landslide victory in 1997 and 2010.

"A political force founded on its ability to adapt and change lost its ability to do so," he said.

Miliband pledged to be a "responsible" opposition leader, saying he relished the chance to take on the "miserable, pessimistic" outlook of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Tackling the record financial deficit run up under Labour has dominated British politics since Cameron\’s Conservative-Liberal coalition came to power.

While Miliband said he would agree with some government cuts, he urged that Britain should not "make a bad situation worse by embarking on a deficit reduction at a pace and in a way that endangers our recovery."

Miliband narrowly edged out his brother to become party leader with the help of backing from trade unions.

The former energy and climate change minister scoffed at his "Red Ed" nickname in some newspapers which expect him to drag Labour to the left and cash in on union unrest over the cuts.

He said he wanted to see "responsibility" from unions, and had "no truck with overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes".

Union leaders in the auditorium were stony-faced at that remark.

The address was met with applause and a standing ovation, but did not set the conference alight as David Miliband\’s off-the-cuff speech did on Monday.

Derek Simpson, leader of Britain\’s second-biggest union, Unite, said Miliband demonstrated he could "present a realistic alternative to the coalition\’s cuts."

Confederation of British Industry chief Richard Lambert said Miliband was pitching Labour on the centre ground, though some companies would "worry" about the "living wage, agency workers and the bank levy" he proposed.

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