It is often said about Britain's Labour Party that it is at its best when it is bold and adventurous. In electing Ed Miliband to replace Gordon Brown as its leader, it has certainly shown an extraordinary streak of boldness. The choice of a young, left-of-centre leader in the face of a strong challenge from right-of-centre Blairites represents a decisive break with the past as the party begins the long march back to power. It also signals the arrival of a younger generation of leadership not tainted by the excesses and fatal blunders of the ‘New Labour' era. Using his maiden speech intelligently to distance himself from the “old” ways of doing things, Mr. Miliband proclaimed: “I lead a new generation not bound by old thinking.” Part of his diagnosis was that New Labour had “lost its way” and stopped listening to people. He courageously denounced the Iraq invasion, saying it was “wrong, wrong, and wrong.” In a sign that the party is desperate to move on, every time he mentioned the word “young” and called for a new direction, he was loudly cheered. At 40, Mr. Miliband — non-Marxist son of a noted Marxist theorist Ralph Miliband — is the youngest leader in the party's modern history, overtaking Tony Blair by a few months. He was elected an MP only in 2005 but quickly rose to ministerial ranks and became a Cabinet Minister in 2008.
Ed Miliband, a surprise late entrant to the leadership contest, was widely regarded as an underdog against David Miliband, his more experienced and high-profile brother. There were three other contenders: Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, and Diane Abbott. But from the moment the younger Miliband entered the fray, it effectively turned into a two-horse race, with the elder Miliband seen as the favourite. As the contest tightened, it took on aspects of a psychodrama. While David appears to have taken his victory for granted and readied a Blairite speech that would have been totally out of sync with the mood within the party, Ed approached the contest with the relaxed air of someone who had nothing to lose. What tilted the balance in his favour was the solid backing of Labour-affiliated union members who were impressed by his passionate defence of the role of the unions and his attacks on the savage cuts in public spending. Mr. Miliband has contemptuously rejected the ‘Red Ed' tag sought to be foisted by the Tories and the right-wing media. To the unions, his message was that while he sympathised with their cause, he would not support “irresponsible” actions. He is seen to have made a good start with a speech that, as The Guardian noted editorially, Labour “needed, a pointed break with the worst of the recent past but a strong reaffirmation of its best.”