New leader pledges to rejuvenate Labour

The newly elected leader of the British opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband, has launched his party on a five-year campaign to regain power, saying he will lead a new generation of radical optimists determined to take on established thinking, speak for the majority and reshape the centre ground of politics.

In a carefully balanced speech to the Labour Party conference in Manchester, the new party leader also tried to put an end to the “Red Ed” tag that has dogged him over the past week by reassuring voters that he will not oppose every spending cut and that he will have “no truck with overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes”.

In a speech designed to mark a rupture with the later years of Blair-Brown leadership, he said Labour had to accept some painful truths about its collapse into old, established thinking.

“It won’t always be easy. You might not always like what I have to say. But you have elected me leader and lead I will,” he said.

In a coded rebuff to the indecision of his old boss, Gordon Brown, Miliband promised: “We will not be imprisoned by the focus groups. Politics has to be about leadership, or it is nothing.”

He ruthlessly broke with the later years of New Labour, saying his party had to have the humility to admit its failures, reeling off a remarkably long catalogue of errors, ranging from tuition fees and a casual attitude to civil liberties and the consequences of immigration to timidity on regulation of the City of London.

“We must never again give the impression that we know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” he said. “The hard truth for all of us is that a party that started out taking on old thinking became the prisoner of its own certainties.

“New Labour, a political force founded on its ability to adapt and change, lost its ability to do. We came to look like a new establishment in the company we kept, the style of our politics and our remoteness from people.”

He also angered some senior shadow Cabinet members, including his brother David, by saying Labour needed to be honest that Tony Blair’s government “had been wrong to take Britain to war”.

Addressing how Labour will approach deficit cuts, Miliband said he wouldn’t oppose every cut the UK’s ruling coalition government proposed. “There will be some things the coalition does that we won’t like as a party but we will have to support [them].”

He said no political party had a monopoly on wisdom, and that many of his heroes were liberals. He promised to back a change in the British voting system in the referendum to be held next May.

In probably the most important passage on his overall political strategy, he said his task was to “once again make Labour a force that takes on established thinking, does not succumb to it, speaks for the majority and shapes the centre ground of politics”.

Some shadow Cabinet sceptics queried whether the speech had been too general and unchallenging. But Miliband’s aides said his key aim was to set out his values and show they can win the next election, and not simply be comfort food for the left.—

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