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Beecham hails Miliband

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Labour’s most senior councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham has said foreign secretary David Miliband would be a “strong runner” in a potential party leadership contest.

The one-time local government minister hit the headlines last week after an article he wrote calling for the government to offer “real change” prompted calls from fellow MPs for him to be sacked.

However, Sir Jeremy praised Mr Miliband, who impressed many with his promise to empower councils in his former brief. The Local Government Association Labour group leader insisted to LGC he was “very well liked and respected in local government circles and beyond”.

“I have been in close contact with him in all his jobs, except maybe his current one, and I have always found him really supportive. He is definitely not a top-down centralist. He has a genuine vision of local government having a serious role.”

In an article in The Guardian, the foreign secretary said the government needed to be “more humble about our shortcomings”. He admitted: “We should have devolved more power away from Whitehall and Westminster.”

With Prime Minister Gordon Brown under pressure following Labour’s defeat in the Glasgow East by-election, the article was widely interpreted as an attempt to position himself for a future leadership contest. Labour MPs Bob Marshall-Andrews and Geraldine Smith have since called for Mr Brown to sack Mr Miliband.

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