- Associated Press - Saturday, September 25, 2010

 

LONDON (AP) — Ed Miliband, Britain’s newly appointed opposition leader, insisted Sunday he won’t force his Labor Party toward the political left wing after he harnessed the support of leftist labor unions to beat his better-known brother in a dramatic election.

Mr. Miliband, 40, narrowly defeated brother David, the 45-year-old ex-foreign secretary, in their party’s leadership contest on Saturday, winning a slender majority of 1.3 percent of votes.

Critics have already dubbed Mr. Miliband “Red Ed,” claiming he is likely to shift the Labor Party away from the centrist, business-friendly platform of former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

“I am nobody’s man; I am my own man. I am very clear about that,” Mr. Miliband told BBC television Sunday in his first interview as party leader, insisting he would not be beholden to his labor union backers.

He said his leadership would not see a turn toward the political left, but insisted his party must break decisively from the dogma of Mr. Blair and Mr. Brown — and lay to rest divisive arguments over the decision to back the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“It is not about some lurch to the left, absolutely not. I am for the center ground of politics,” said Mr. Miliband, who was confirmed as leader at a rally in Manchester, in northern England. Legislators, party activists and about 3.5 million labor union members voted in the contest.

In his campaign, Mr. Miliband advocated the retention of a temporary 50 percent tax rate for high earners, a more punishing levy on banks and a steep increase in the country’s national minimum wage.

He said he favored the use of tax increases in place of some proposed public spending cuts, but he told the BBC he would not oppose all austerity measures being put forward by Prime Minister David Cameron's government.

Treasury chief George Osborne will next month set out the detail of the sharpest spending cuts since World War II, aimed at virtually clearing the country’s record debts by 2015.

“I’m not going to oppose every cut that the coalition government comes up with. I will judge them on their merits,” Mr. Miliband said.

But he questioned the speed of the government’s plans to restore Britain’s finances, claiming the aim of saving about 30 billion pounds ($44 billion) per year from government departments was reckless.

“They want to say the only thing that matters in our society is to eliminate the structural deficit over the next four years,” Mr. Miliband said. “I don’t agree with that because that will inflict huge damage on our communities. Deficit reduction, yes, but at a cautious pace and in a way that will help our economy, not hinder it.”

Mr. Miliband, whose partner, Justine Thornton, is pregnant with the couple’s second child, has pledged action to reduce the gap between the country’s highest and lowest earners and to offer better protection to British workers who face competition for jobs from migrants.

However, he insisted his policies would have broad appeal. “All these characterizations about ‘Red Ed’ are both tiresome and also rubbish,” he said.

Writing an Op-Ed article in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Mr. Miliband vowed to recapture the support of middle-class Britons, who deserted the party in the May national election — when Labor trailed in second place and was ousted by the Conservative-led coalition government after 13 years in office.

“My aim is to show that our party is on the side of the squeezed middle in our country and everyone who has worked hard and wants to get on. My aim is to return our party to power,” he wrote.

Mr. Miliband said he would heed advice from senior party figures of the past, including Mr. Blair, but said his party also must recognize the failings that led to its ouster.

Voters want “a government that would stand up for Britain, but when it came to Iraq — the defining foreign policy test of our time in office — they lost trust in us. We need to accept the mistakes we made in these areas and show that we have changed,” Mr. Miliband wrote in his Op-Ed.

Mr. Miliband said his elder brother was considering whether he would take a portfolio in Labor’s new top team. “He needs time to think about the contribution he can make. I think he can make a very big contribution to British politics,” the new leader said of his brother.

The elder Mr. Miliband declined to say on Saturday what role he would play in the future, but he congratulated his brother. “Obviously, I am genuinely delighted for him because if I can’t win, then he should lead the party,” David Miliband said.