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British opposition leader under pressure

David Miliband waiting in the wings as his brother Ed fails to convince Labour supporters despite the deep unpopularity of the coalition government's spending cuts

Reuters , Sunday 12 Jun 2011
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Britain's opposition Labor Party leader Miliband in a news conference in London (Reuters)
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Britain's opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband is struggling to maintain the support of his centre-left party after just nine months in the job and his brother is waiting to take over, reports said Sunday.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times revealed that more than half of Labour voters do not know what their party leader stands for and 41 per cent said that electing him as leader had been the wrong decision.

More than two thirds said he had been ineffective at providing opposition to Prime Minister David Cameron, despite the deep unpopularity of the spending cuts introduced by Cameron's Conservative-Liberal coalition government.

In September, Miliband surprised commentators by beating his older brother, ex-foreign secretary David Miliband, to replace Gordon Brown as Labour leader.

But that brother is now ready to make another bid for the job should a vacancy arise, according to the Independent on Sunday. It cited friends of David's as saying that while he would not challenge him, he was "waiting for Ed to fail."

The claims chime with revelations in a new book that says Ed Miliband's victory in the Labour contest had sparked a bitter feud between the brothers.

The book, serialised in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, says that contrary to Ed's claim that he made a last-minute decision to contest the job, he had in fact spent years plotting behind his brother's back to beat him.

At the time of the leadership race, there were fears that the sibling rivalry might cause a rift similar to the damaging stand-off between Blair and Brown which plagued Labour for most of Blair's decade in power.

Aides for both brothers on Sunday dismissed suggestions of a major fall-out, but the revelations only add to the pressure on Ed Miliband after a tough week.

On Thursday, leaked documents suggested that he and Labour finance spokesman Ed Balls had plotted to install Brown as premier just after Blair had won a historic third election in 2005.

Blair stepped down two years later, handing power to Brown, his long-standing finance minister, who lost the next election in May 2010.

Senior figures from the former Labour government warned Ed Miliband on Sunday that he had to improve his performance.

Former Labour minister David Blunkett said: "We need to remember that Ed has only been opposition leader for eight months and it took David Cameron two years to establish himself in the public eye.

"However, the next year will prove vital in creating momentum and a sense of direction."

In another blow to Miliband, Dave Prentis, the head of Unison, Britain's biggest public sector trade union, told the Independent on Sunday that the Labour leader could no longer count on his automatic support.

"They are not playing their part strongly in opposition, which is what we'd want to do -- hone in on what the Tories are doing and show the deficiencies in it," Prentis said.

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