'New generation' eye up posts in Ed Miliband's Shadow Cabinet

With claims of fratricide and infighting ringing in his ears, Ed Miliband left Manchester yesterday to return to London and plan his next moves.

Harriet Harman closed Labour's conference with a plea to the party to close ranks behind Ed Miliband after the dramatic departure of his brother, David, from the political front line.

The deputy Labour leader attempted to rouse the spirits of activists following a gathering that has been dominated by the fallout from Ed Miliband's narrow leadership victory.

She told delegates: "The contest for the leadership is over. The contest for the future of the country begins."

Ms Harman, who returned to the role of deputy after four months as acting Labour leader, urged the party to pull together with crucial local elections seven months away, and said Mr Miliband was "intelligent, courageous and has a good heart".

Members of Ed Miliband's team left Manchester still stunned by his election triumph after the battle with David Miliband that eventually descended into acrimony. They have been dismayed by the relentless focus on the Miliband family soap opera.

They have also been buffeted by hostile media coverage and private protests from David Miliband's supporters over the unions' role in securing the younger brother's election.

Labour sources acknowledged yesterday that the party could have blundered by announcing the new leader on the first day of the conference.

"In retrospect it would have been better to have done it well before, so all the implications of the result had been played out and there were no distractions from presenting the new leader to the public," one source said.

Having ditched Nick Brown – a close ally of Gordon Brown – as the chief whip, Mr Miliband will now attempt to assert his authority by appointing a powerful leadership team and beginning to spell out the new policy platform that will form the basis of the party's assault on the Coalition Government.

Next week he will also have to fashion a Shadow Cabinet that balances the competing political pressures within the Labour Party and presents a credible alternative to the Coalition.

Mr Miliband will almost certainly do so in the knowledge that only a minority of his top team voted for him in the leadership election. Voting papers for the 19 seats at the Shadow Cabinet table go out to MPs today, with the result due to be declared next Thursday. They are not elected to specific positions.

One Shadow Cabinet candidate told The Independent: "It will be a big test of Ed's maturity and decisiveness. He needs to be inclusive and allocate jobs on the ability of people, rather than simply reward his supporters."

Ms Harman joked that Mr Miliband's declaration that a "new generation" was taking charge also included people like her who were "a new generation of fabulous older women".

Sadiq Khan, one of Mr Miliband's campaign team, said: "We'll win the next general election if we show people a vision of a better, fairer Britain that they can believe in. Not just a vision for the next five years – but for the Britain that we want to leave behind for the generations to come."

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