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Harman vows unity behind Miliband

Harriet Harman has pulled down the curtain on a "roller-coaster" Labour conference which has seen the party gain a new leader and lose one of its brightest stars.

In the deputy leader's traditional end-of conference address before the singing of the Red Flag, she told delegates: "The contest for the leadership is over. The contest for the future of the country begins."

Ms Harman - who returned to her position as deputy on Ed Miliband's election on Saturday after four months at the helm of the party - said the new leader was "intelligent, courageous and he has a good heart".

"We will all be united in support of him and I have no doubt he will be a great Labour leader of our party," she said.

She also praised Mr Miliband's brother and defeated leadership rival David, who stepped down from the Labour frontbenches on Wednesday, as "a towering figure in our party".

In a hint that she may expect him eventually to return to the frontline of politics, she said: "The Labour Party is proud of him. We are proud of what he did in government. And I know we will be proud of what he does in the future."

At the end of a week dominated by the drama of Ed's knife-edge victory and uncertainty about David's future, she told delegates: "This has been a historic conference. It's been a roller-coaster of emotions. We're disappointed to be in opposition, but proud of what we achieved in government. We are sobered by the scale of the challenge that lies ahead, but fortified by the energy and determination of our new leader, Ed Miliband."

And she joked 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".

Some 49 Labour MPs, ranging from former cabinet ministers like Alan Johnson, Ed Balls and Peter Hain to relatively unknown backbenchers, are standing for 19 elected shadow cabinet positions in a ballot of MPs which concludes next Thursday. Ms Harman and new chief whip Rosie Winterton also take places by virtue of their positions.

Along with the elder Miliband brother, some of the biggest figures in the former Labour administration are taking their exit from the front benches, with Alistair Darling, Margaret Beckett, Jack Straw and Bob Ainsworth all standing down.

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