Brothers Milibank Vie For Labour's Leadership Post

After its drubbing in the UK general election, Britain's Labour Party is looking for a new leader to replace former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Two of the leading candidates are brothers: former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and his younger brother Ed, who was energy minister in Brown's cabinet.

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In Britain, the Labour Party's recent defeat at the polls has left it pondering the future. Vicki Barker reports from London on the party's search for a new direction and new leaders.

VICKI BARKER: After 13 years in power, Britain's Labour Party is back in the political wilderness. Party members now have to decide who is likeliest to lead it out.

Mr. DAVID MILIBAND (Labour Party): I'm standing for the leadership because I believe that I can lead Labour to rebuild itself as the great reforming champion of social and economic change in this country.

BARKER: The perceived front-runner, David Miliband - until this month's election defeat, he was Britain's foreign minister.

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Ed Miliband.

(Soundbite of applause)

BARKER: Then there's David's younger brother, Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown's former energy secretary. In his campaign kick-off speech, Ed Miliband took a subtle swipe at his old boss's sometimes robotic management style.

Mr. ED MILIBAND (Labour Party): We became more like technocrats and less like transformers of our politics and our country.

BARKER: Both Milibands are clean-cut, well-spoken, center-left academic standouts who hitched their wagons early to the rising political star that came to be called New Labour. Sunder Katwala, of the left-leaning think tank the Fabian Society, insists there is a difference between the two candidates. Really.

Mr. SUNDER KATWALA (Fabian Society): I think Ed Miliband is probably a little bit to the left of his brother politically, although David Miliband is somewhat to the left of Tony Blair. So I don't accept that we have a sort of Blair-like, Brown-ite thing.

BARKER: Ah, that vexed Blair-ite Brown-ite thing. Tony Blair made the party electable by ousting its hard-left fringe and marginalizing the once- mighty unions. That was New Labour. Yet the party's leadership contest will likely be decided by Old Labour, the unions and the rank-and-file that remains largely working class. So can these people elect an electable candidate?

Hilary Benn was a cabinet minister under both Blair and Brown.

Mr. HILARY BENN (Former Cabinet Minister): The union movement is a very important part of the Labour constituency. But if we're going to win again, then we have to attract back the votes that we gained in 1997, and which we lost at the election that just took place.

BARKER: There are six contenders. Four candidates - Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and the brothers Miliband - all served in Gordon Brown's cabinet. New Labour veterans all.

Ms. DIANE ABBOTT (Labour Party): All of the front-runners are really nice, and they'll make great leaders of the Labour Party. But they all look the same. And they're all saying the same thing.

BARKER: That's another contender, Diane Abbott, who in 1987 became the first black woman elected to parliament. She says she best represents those union workers who could cast the decisive votes.

Now, each candidate must be nominated by 33 Labour lawmakers. The original deadline was this Thursday. But parliament, with its many new, first-term members, didn't even formally reopen until yesterday. From Labour's surviving left wing: outrage. Longtime Labour politician Jon Cruddas.

Mr. JON CRUDDAS (Labour Party): I've known David Miliband for 20 years, known Ed Balls for 20 years, but I don't know what they stand for, you know? And I've known them. If you're a new MP, just walked through the gates, you know, you should be given - you have to be given more time.

BARKER: The party has since relented and pushed the deadline back to early June. But so far, only the Miliband brothers have amassed enough nominations to run, leaving critics charging that Labour's rank-and-file voters will be forced to choose between contenders they wouldn't have picked in the first place.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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