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Miliband leads undeclared race for Britain's Labour leadership

Foreign Secretary David Miliband is the clear favourite to succeed Gordon Brown as leader of Britain's Labour party and potential prime minister, although the contest must wait until a new government is formed.

world Updated: May 11, 2010 18:57 IST

Foreign Secretary David Miliband is the clear favourite to succeed Gordon Brown as leader of Britain's Labour party and potential prime minister, although the contest must wait until a new government is formed.

Miliband's main competitor would likely be Schools Secretary Ed Balls but any number of candidates could still declare, including Miliband's younger brother, Ed, as different party factions vye for power.

Brown announced Monday he was stepping aside after his party came second in Thursday's elections, saying Labour would choose a new leader by the party's annual conference in September.

There is a chance the winner could also become prime minister because both Labour and the Conservatives, who came first, are still locked in talks with the third-placed Liberal Democrats to form a government.

Although the Labour leadership race will not start until a new government is formed, the bookmakers' have already picked Miliband as odds-on favourite.

The brainy 44-year-old worked closely with former prime minister Tony Blair, both as head of policy before Labour was elected to government and for four years after they took office.

He was elected to parliament in 2001 and rose swiftly, becoming environment secretary in 2006 and then foreign secretary in June 2007.

Despite some hiccups, he sparked outrage during a trip to India in January 2009 by linking the unresolved Kashmir dispute to the Mumbai attacks, he has won respect and was mooted as a candidate for EU foreign affairs chief.

Miliband's reputation took a knock in 2008 when he tentatively challenge Brown's leadership but then backed off, and was later photographed in a ridiculous pose holding a banana, for which he was widely mocked.

Two years on, Miliband has returned as a clear leadership contender, although he must boost his grassroots support.

He appeared to include himself among those running Tuesday, telling reporters: "I'm not going to say anything more and none of the candidates are going to be saying anything more either."

Miliband is thought to have the support of Alan Johnson, the home secretary and former postman who was himself once touted as a future leader.

But while Johnson is popular, it is unclear whether he has the support to run. Finance minister Alistair Darling is also mentioned as an outside bet, while deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has ruled herself out.

Miliband's strongest challenge would likely be from Ed Balls, the 43-year-old schools secretary who worked closely with Brown for a decade before being elected to parliament in 2005.

Educated at Oxford and Harvard universities, Balls was Brown's economic advisor for three years before Labour took office and for seven years after that while Brown was finance minister.

This would serve him well in steering Britain's recovery from recession, although his ties to unpopular Brown could hurt him.

He has strong links with the trade unions who help elect Labour's leader, but a combative style has won him more than his share of enemies.

The dark horse who bridges the "Blairite" and "Brownite" camps in Labour is Miliband's younger brother Ed, who has emerged as a serious player since becoming energy and climate change secretary in 2008.

Although a long-standing member of Brown's inner circle, he often acted as emissary between the two camps, although many commentators believe he does not yet have the internal support or profile to make a leadership bid.

Another serious contender is Jon Cruddas, a left-wing lawmaker who did surprisingly well in the 2007 race for the deputy leadership.

Brown's successor will be chosen from a ballot of three electoral colleges, making up Labour lawmakers and members of the European Parliament; individual party members; and affiliated organisations, including unions.

Candidates need the backing of 12.5 percent of the party's MPs to stand, currently 33 supporters.

First Published: May 11, 2010 18:54 IST