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THE FIGHT for the future of the Labour Party is on after Ed Miliband’s resignation yesterday morning sparked a leadership race.
Mr Miliband stepped down after it became clear David Cameron’s Tories had snatched a slim majority.
Popular left-leaning shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and Blairite shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna quickly became the bookies’ favourites for the post. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow justice minister Dan Jarvis are among other frontrunners.
The first skirmishes in Labour’s looming leadership battle broke out as a near-total wipeout of its Scottish MPs saw the party slump to 232 seats — 26 down on 2010.
But shadow chancellor Ed Balls was out of the race after being Labour’s highest-profile casualty as dawn broke yesterday, losing his Morley & Outwood seat.
Tony Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell claimed that it was proof Labour could not “win from the left.”
Compass think tank chief executive Neal Lawson even called for Labour to change its name and adopt the SNP as the Scottish wing of the party. But deputy party chairman Tom Watson blamed the defeat on Labour’s inability to inspire its traditional supporters, many of whom voted Ukip.
“From 2005 we’ve been losing working class-voters, blue-collar working-class voters in particular,” he told the BBC. “We didn’t sufficiently convince people that we were the party of working people as we historically have been.”
Announcing his resignation in a speech at Labour’s London HQ, Mr Miliband called for a debate “without constraint” about the party’s future. But he appealed for Labour members to show “comradeship” throughout the coming leadership contest. “While we may have lost the election, the argument of our campaign will not go away,” he told exhausted party workers. “The issue of our unequal country will not go away, this is the challenge of our time, the fight goes on, and whoever is our new leader, I know Labour will keep making the case for a country that works for working people once again.”
An emergency meeting of Labour’s Left Platform has been called for Tuesday to discuss how to fight off a right-wing backlash to the defeat. Jeremy Corbyn, one of the MPs supporting the project, warns about such a scenario in a post-election analysis in today’s Morning Star. He writes: “Ed Miliband is already being blamed for being too left-wing in his approach to the campaign, thus paving the way for New Labour to put themselves back into the driving seat of the party.”
Harriet Harman also announced she was resigning as deputy leader, a post she has held since 2007, in the wake of the defeat. She will though serve as acting leader until Mr Miliband’s permanent successor is elected. Labour’s national executive council will meet early next week to set the timetable for the leadership election. The party hope the contest will be concluded before its annual conference, which begins in Brighton on September 27.
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