Page last updated at 21:04 GMT, Sunday, 21 September 2008 22:04 UK

Miliband moves to end leader talk

By Brian Wheeler
BBC News, Labour conference, Manchester

David Miliband
David Miliband urged the party to pull together

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has attempted to kill off speculation he is planning a Labour leadership bid.

The man most often named as a potential challenger to Gordon Brown told a fringe meeting at Labour's conference he did not want to see a contest.

And he urged the party to unite behind the prime minister.

He denied Labour was "disunited" and blamed the media for stirring up dissent but added the party had to be more honest about past mistakes.

At the meeting, hosted by BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme, Mr Miliband was invited to "kill off the speculation" surrounding him and confirm that he did not want to be Labour leader.

He said: "We have been through this several times and I keep on saying the same thing. I don't support a leadership election, the party needs to pull together, we need to pull together behind Gordon's leadership, we are determined to do so."

Mr Miliband has been at the centre of leadership speculation since he wrote an article for the Guardian on the party's future which was widely interpreted as a means of "testing the waters".

Asked at the fringe meeting if ministers were saying one thing in private and another in public on the leadership, he said: "I totally reject that allegation that somehow the conference is disunited."

He added: "The public want us to be focused on what they are concerned about... there is a determination right across the Labour party to recognise that. Now is the time to pull together."

'Fight of our lives'

He was also asked if he had been contacted by any of the 12 rebel Labour MPs who have been calling for a leadership contest.

He said: "I have been through this so many times, they didn't ring me up, it wasn't done. Gordon himself has said that any member of the cabinet could have written the article that I wrote."

BROWNOMETER
Gordon Brown
Mr Brown can probably stop worrying about the Cabinet rising up against him, in public at least, even if some of his younger colleagues are clearly unhappy about the direction the party is going in

Mr Miliband added: "If we get to a stage where leading members of the Cabinet cannot say 'let's defend our record, let's set out a vision, let's draw a contrast with the Tories', then we really are going to be in a world where the media are dictating the ability of politics to set an agenda for the country."

Earlier in the evening, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears told a rally organised by Blairite think tank Progress that the next election will be the "fight of our lives" for Labour.

She added that whoever "owns the future" will decide the next election. She continued "we are not going to win by reciting lists of achievements".

The rally was attended by many senior members of the Cabinet, and ex-Cabinet ministers.

'Honesty'

But former Health Secretary Alan Milburn, who is close to Tony Blair and who only recently wrote a critical article about the direction of the Brown government, did not attend the event for "family reasons".

Cabinet Office Minister Ed Miliband told supporters that disunited parties did not win elections and "we all need to remember that".

His brother, David Miliband, who was also at the Progress meeting, said: "We have to be honest about what we have been good at and what we have been not so good at."

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said there "needs to be honesty and self-awareness now".

Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister said: "We have not lost, people have just stopped listening, and if we change the way we talk, what we say now will be as important as it was in 1997 and will be in 2012, halfway through a Labour fourth term."

The leader of public services union Unison, Dave Prentis, also mounted a strong attack on figures within Labour who have been publicly questioning the future of Gordon Brown, saying that his members would "never forgive them" if such talk led to election defeat.

"There's been so much squabbling going on that I want to say very very strongly to those people that my members will never ever forgive them if it does mean Labour losing the next general election, because no electorate will vote for a party that is squabbling and is in division," he said.

"We've got to make sure that these people are put back in their box where they belong."




SEE ALSO
Brown pledges action on economy
20 Sep 08 |  UK Politics
PM hits back over leadership talk
19 Sep 08 |  UK Politics

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