Former Climate Secretary Ed Miliband has beaten his brother David in the closest of contests to become leader of the Labour party amid claims that that Britain’s largest political party in opposition could be turning its back on centrist modernisers.
Ed scraped past former Foreign Secretary David by a razor-thin margin of 1.3% — he won 50.65% of the votes to David’s 49.35% — on Saturday. But the nature of his support-base raised questions about the future direction of Labour, which was pushed to second place by the Conservatives in general elections earlier this year.
David, five years older than 40-year-old Ed, won the support of the majority of MPs and local constituency parties in Labour’s three-way electoral college. But Ed won because of the backing of powerful Labour-affiliated worker’s unions, one of whose leaders warned against the policies of the centrist New Labour that was led by former PM Tony Blair.
“His victory, coming from nowhere a few months ago, is a clear sign that the party wants change, to move on from New Labour and reconnect with the working people,” said Tony Woodley, joint leader of Britain’s most powerful trade union, Unite.
Unlike Blairite David, brother Ed has been more closely associated with Blair’s successor Gordon Brown, although the new Labour leader has described himself as the least “tribal” of fellow-MPs belonging to the frequently-fractious Labour party.
Nevertheless, the strong support of the workers unions prompted the Conservative party, which now rules in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, to sound a note of caution.
“Ed Miliband wasn’t the choice of Labour party members, but was put into power by union votes,” said Conservative Chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi. “I’m afraid this looks like a great leap backwards for the Labour party.”
But some analysts said although Ed positioned himself to his brother’s left in a campaign marked by worries over looming job cuts, there is little doubt that he is made from the same New Labour mould as brother David. Claims of a leftward lurch by Labour, they say, are unfounded.
As Britain’s Energy and Climate Secretary, Ed was well-informed about India and, in the leadup to last year’s Copenhagen summit, backed New Delhi’s position that wealthy countries needed to do more than developing nations to cut carbon emissions.