Ed Miliband promised today to change Labour and regain voters’ trust after winning the party’s leadership by a wafer-thin majority over his brother David.
Mr Miliband said he understood the reasons for Labour’s General Election defeat and had “heard the call for change”, telling delegates at a special conference in Manchester: “I get it.”
The race to succeed Gordon Brown was won by the narrowest of margins, with just 1.3% separating the two brothers as Ed secured 50.65% of the vote to David’s 49.35%.
Older brother David won the support of a majority of Labour’s MPs at Westminster and grassroots activists, but crashed to defeat due to Ed’s dominance among the trade unions.
After trailing David through the first three rounds of vote-counting, Ed won the crown thanks to the redistributed votes of eliminated rivals Diane Abbott, Andy Burnham and Ed Balls.
The Conservatives seized on Mr Miliband’s reliance on union votes as a sign that he would take the party to the left.
“Ed Miliband wasn’t the choice of his MPs, wasn’t the choice of Labour Party members but was put in to power by union votes,” said Tory chairman Baroness Warsi. “I’m afraid this looks like a great leap backwards for the Labour Party.”
Ed Miliband secured the first-preference votes of just 84 of the 266 Labour MPs and MEPs who voted in the election, to his older brother’s 111.
By the final round, David led Ed by 140 to 122 among MPs and MEPs and took 66,814 party members’ votes to Ed’s 55,992. But in Labour’s complex electoral college system, it was the votes of affiliated organisations such as trade unions which were decisive, with Ed scooping 119,405 compared with David’s 80,266.
The two brothers embraced on stage, and Ed paid tribute to the “outstanding” campaigns of all four of his rivals.
His election at the age of just 40 and five years after entering Parliament as MP for Doncaster North in 2005 makes him Labour’s youngest ever leader.
And he will immediately be plunged into the fray, with a high-profile interview on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show tomorrow morning at the start of Labour’s annual conference in Manchester at which he will deliver his first leader’s speech on Tuesday.
Mr Miliband had campaigned on a platform of “turning the page on New Labour”.
And in his victory acceptance speech, he said: “Today’s election turns the page, because a new generation has stepped forward to serve our party, and in time I hope to serve our country.
“Today the work of the new generation begins.”
Paying tribute to his predecessors, he told delegates: “I am proud of the leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown but we lost the election and lost it badly.
“My message to the country is this – I know we lost trust, I know we lost touch, I know we need to change.”
He insisted that “I get it” about voters’ concern that Labour “wasn’t properly on their side” and that they were “anxious and insecure” about the impact of immigration on wages, conditions and housing.
And he acknowledged their worries about the cost of university and the difficulty for young people in getting on to the housing ladder.
On the most divisive issue of the New Labour years, he added: “I get it also that, whatever your view on the Iraq War, it led to an appalling loss of trust for us. I know we didn’t always speak to your hopes, your dreams and address your fears and uncertainties. I know we have to change.”
In an appeal for party unity following a four-month campaign dominated by speculation over tensions between the two brothers, Mr Miliband said: “Today, we draw a line under this contest and move forward united as a team.”
It was not immediately clear what role he envisages for David, and his hands will be tied to a certain extent by the results of the shadow cabinet elections, which kick off tomorrow and do not conclude until October 7.
He told his brother he knew “how much you have to offer this country in the future”, adding: David, I love you so much as a brother and I have so much extraordinary respect for the campaign that you ran, the strength and eloquence you have shown.“
In an email message to supporters, David said: “I’m moved and honoured by your support and proud of the campaign we ran together. I now passionately want Ed to have a united party behind him.”
Mr Brown promised the new leader his “full, unequivocal and tireless support”.
Mr Balls appeared certain of a place in Mr Miliband’s top team, as the new leader said Tory ministers would be “quaking in their boots” at the prospect of having him as their shadow.
And he said outsider Ms Abbott – the first to be eliminated – was right to run and told her “it is important that your voice continues to be heard”. Mr Burnham had “reached people who felt Labour had forgotten them”.
Mr Miliband’s partner, barrister Justine Thornton, who is expecting their second child in November, was in the hall to hear him named leader, but did not join him on stage. He paid tribute to “the incredible love and support” she had shown him during the contest.
In an insight into his agenda as leader, he said he believed the deficit must be reduced in a way that creates “an economy working in the interest of the hard-working people of this country”.
Government must tackle inequality between the rich and poor and protect “family, community... the environment”.
And he added: “I believe also we need a different kind of politics in this country and I will oppose the coalition Government when they are doing the wrong thing but I will support them when they are doing the right thing. That is responsible politics and it’s the politics people in this country want.”
David Cameron rang Mr Miliband to offer his congratulations.
In a statement, the Prime Minister said: “I was Leader of the Opposition for four years and know what a demanding but important job it is. I wish him and his family well.”
And Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes offered his congratulations, but warned Labour’s new leader that his party “can no longer remain head-in-the-sand deficit-deniers”.
Mr Miliband’s victory was warmly welcomed by the unions, whose support he had during the campaign and whose votes were crucial to his success.
Tony Woodley, joint leader of Britain’s biggest union Unite, said today’s result was a “clear sign that the party wants change” and called on Labour to unite behind the new leadership.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis added: “Under Ed’s leadership, Labour must offer an alternative economic strategy, promoting growth and recovery, together with fairness.
“This means protecting the poor, the sick and the vulnerable from the fall-out of this banker’s recession.”