Britain's new opposition Labour Party chief Ed Miliband denies he'll advocate a leftist agenda
LONDON – LONDON (AP) — Britain's newly appointed opposition leader Ed Miliband insisted Sunday he won't force his Labour 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.
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 Miliband "Red Ed," claiming he is likely to shift the Labour Party away from the centrist, business-friendly platform of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
"I am nobody's man, I am my own man. I am very clear about that," Miliband told BBC television Sunday, in a 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 Blair and 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 Miliband, who was confirmed as leader at a rally in Manchester, northern England. Legislators, party activists and about 3.5 million labor union members voted in the contest.
In his campaign, Miliband advocated the retention of a temporary 50 percent tax rate for high earners, a more punishing levy on banks and a steep rise in the country's national minimum wage.
He said he favored the use of tax hikes in place of some proposed public spending cuts — but told the BBC on Sunday that 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," 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," 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."
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, Miliband vowed to recapture the support of middle class Britons, who deserted the party in the May national election — when Labour trailed in second place and was ousted after 13 years in office by the Conservative-led coalition government.
"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.
Miliband said he would heed advice from senior party figures of the past, including Blair, but said his party must also 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," Miliband wrote in his op-ed.
Miliband said his elder brother was considering whether he would take a portfolio in Labour'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.
As he arrived at the party's annual rally in Manchester on Sunday, the defeated Miliband declined to say what role he would play in the future, but congratulated his brother.
"I think he's made a great start," the elder Miliband said.