The World From Berlin: Labour's Choice of Leader Has 'Tightened Cameron's Grip on Power'

Britain's opposition Labour Party chose Ed Miliband as its new leader on Saturday, raising the prospect of a leftward shift that German media commentators say would keep the party out of power for a long time to come.

Labour faces a shift to the left under new leader Ed Miliband. Zoom
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Labour faces a shift to the left under new leader Ed Miliband.

Britain's Labour Party, in opposition since its election defeat in May ended its 13-year stretch in power, appears to have drawn a line through the centrist, market-friendly policies that marked 'New Labour' of former Prime Minister Tony Blair by narrowly electing Ed Miliband, a former environment minister, as its new leader.

Miliband, 40, dubbed "Red Ed," beat his older brother David, a former foreign minister who was seen as an heir to Blair, in the leadership election at the party conference in Manchester on Saturday with the help of trade union votes.

"The era of New Labour is over," he told BBC television on Sunday, fueling speculation that he plans to shift Labour back to the left by resisting the radical welfare cuts of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition under Prime Minister David Cameron.

Most Labour members of parliament (MPs) and former ministers had backed David Miliband, 45, but have rallied round Ed in a show of party unity. It remains unclear whether David will accept a senior job in the shadow cabinet under Ed, who has finally managed to emerge from his older brother's shadow after following him through school, university and into government. Their Jewish father, Ralph, born in Brussels, was a prominent Marxist academic who fled to Britain to escape the Nazis in 1940.

Ed now faces the difficult challenge of uniting the party and fending off accusations that the trade unions have him in their pocket. German media commentators say Labour risks spending years in the wilderness if its vacates the center ground now.

Spiegel Online's London correspondent Carsten Volkery writes:

"It already looks as if the debate over the influence of the unions will be the first central theme of the Miliband era. The new party leader knows he has a lot of convincing to do. The fact that he owes his victory to the support of the three biggest British unions in the electoral college makes him vulnerable."

"It is a tightrope walk. On the one hand Miliband doesn't want to alienate his supporters. He has promised to join a union protest march in October against the public sector cuts. On the other hand he has to show his independence. He has distanced himself from the union's strike plans and said he won't resist every cut proposal the government makes."

The business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The new Labour leader can't afford to demand a major increase in social benefits. It would make him look ridiculous in view of the British deficit of more than 10 percent of GDP. That doesn't mean Labour has to support the new government's policy of radical savings. Many economists regard the massive cutbacks as dangerous because they could choke off the recovery that has only just begun."

"The new party leader must offer a credible alternative. One that doesn't just focus on the trade unions and the poor but also on the middle classes. One that doesn't just hike taxes and thereby deters investment. One that tackles the debt problem and doesn't shy away from painful cuts."

"Otherwise Ed Milliband may suffer the same fate as his predecessors who shifted the party to the left after Labour was voted out of office in 1979: they spent 18 years in opposition."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Ed Milliband owes his reputation as an 'ordinary guy' who does right by people largely to his tendency to tell people what they want to hear. Now he owes his success to union members even though the percentage of unionized employees in Britain amounts to just 20 percent. That makes his power base even narrower."

"But all surveys show that the British accept the need for painful cutbacks at a time when the budget deficit amounts to £165 billion (€193.95 billion). Now Ed Milliband, who only entered parliament in 2005, is talking about limiting top incomes and about 'careful' cuts in spending. Does he propose to regain the middle classes in this way? A shift to the left seems predestined even though he denied it yesterday. After this Labour appointment, the Cameron coalition's grip on power seems tighter than ever."

"Labour faces the same problem as many left-wing parties in Europe: They are in an 'electability crisis,' because voters are seeking answers elsewhere. New Labour has exhausted itself. There's a big question mark over 'Next Labour'."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The election of Ed Miliband should please Prime Minister David Cameron and the London tabloid press loyal to the Conservative government leader. 'Red Ed' and his supporters in the radical trade unions provide just the kind of opponent they wanted. In just under four weeks the government will reveal the details of its planned cutbacks aimed at reducing the gaping budget deficit. There will be strikes and demonstrations and it will be easy to caricature the new radical Labour leadership as the bogeyman of the middle class."

"The battlelines are clearly drawn. Labour is hoping the British public will see Cameron as the grandson of 'ice-cold' Lady Margaret Thatcher bent on completing the welfare cutbacks she started. But the British have almost equally vibrant memories of the ideological trade unions whose irresponsible strikes brought public life to a standstill. 'Red Ken' (Ken Livingstone, the left-wing former mayor of London who plans to run for mayor again in two years) and 'Red Ed' may find themselves not in power but stuck in opposition -- with deeply red faces."

The Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel writes:

"By electing the younger Ed rather than the older David, Labour is dreaming once more that there can be a progressive majority left of the center that would be capable of governing without having to pander to the wealthy middle classes in the south, without having to compromise with economic egotism, the hated financial sector and the bankers with their mega-salaries."

"Ed secured the votes of the unions by suggesting that Britain could make do with much less rigorous cutbacks than the draconian cuts planned by the governing coalition to get the budget back in order. That may be true in the short term. But taking a long-term view, this fiscal problem isn't just a result of the financial crisis, but of the fact that Britain had been living above its means for years under Labour."

"No wonder David Cameron's Tories feel like winners. Labour has elected a party leader, but no future prime minister."

-- David Crossland

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