A new low for the Daily Mail?

Posted by Dr John Jewell

On Saturday, the Daily Mail ran a lengthy essay which described Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph, the socialist academic who died in 1994, as ‘the man who hated Britain’.

The essay, written by Geoffrey Levy, describes the philosophies  of Miliband senior seemingly pretty accurately: he died a brilliant, but politically disappointed, man. But the tone of the article is article is deeply critical. We are invited to judge the elder Miliband as a soviet sympathiser and as a man profoundly ungrateful for the refuge Britain provided for him. Twice Britain is referred to as ‘his adoptive country’. Here we are meant to marvel at the cheek of an immigrant coming over here and telling us what to do – which of course is precisely what the Mail accuses less celebrated immigrants of with numbing frequency.

At any rate, it concludes with a clear attempt to associate the Labour leader with the politics of his father: Ed Miliband has become ‘Red Ed’ preparing Britain for a Labour government with talk of socialism from his £1.6 million townhouse.

That, normally, would have been that. It’s hardly news that the right wing press attacks the Labour leader.  It’s all part of the game. Imagine if Neil Kinnock took umbrage every time he was denigrated by the Mail – it would have taken up all his time to defend himself . But Miliband is different, he is prepared to fight back against the press. In 2011 and in the genesis of the phone hacking scandal he called for cross-party agreement on new media ownership laws that would severely limit the power of News International. Murdoch, he said, had “too much power over British public life“.

Such was Miliband’s disgust, and the publicity generated, at Levy’s article that the editor of the Mail, Paul Dacre, provided space in today’s paper for him to reply. In his article Miliband wrote:

“It’s part of our job description as politicians to be criticised and attacked by newspapers, including the Daily Mail. It comes with the territory. The British people have great wisdom to sort the fair from the unfair. And I have other ways of answering back.

But my Dad is a different matter. He died in 1994. I loved him and he loved Britain. And there is no credible argument in the article or evidence from his life which can remotely justify the lurid headline and its accompanying claim that it would ‘disturb everyone who loves this country'”.

As Roy Greenslade points out, it is quite remarkable that the Daily Mail granted Miliband the opportunity to respond and allow it’s journalism to be the subject of such ‘trenchant criticism’. But the paper is far from apologetic and simply uses the Miliband piece to defend itself and underline it’s point. It’s editorial proclaims: today, we stand by every word we published on Saturday, from the headline to our assertion that the beliefs of Miliband Snr ‘should disturb everyone who loves this country’ 

 Whilst Levy writesAs the Labour leader reacts angrily to our critique of his Marxist father… We repeat: This man did hate Britain.

One cannot help but feel that Miliband has been sucker punched a little here. Sure, his defence of his father is heartfelt and his courage in taking on the Daily Mail to be applauded. That said, there is the nagging sense that this plays into Paul Dacre’s hands. After all, Miliband has kept the story alive and allowed the Mail to repeat its assertions. He is being smeared in the same way as Kinnock was. He is now Red Ed with the sinister blood of his father running through his veins.  The paper states that, Ed’s Marxist values can be seen all too clearly in his plans for state seizures of private land held by builders and for fixing energy prices by government diktat. 

It’s in the last paragraph of the Mail’s editorial, though, that we get to the crux of the matter. This is all about the Leveson recommendations and Milliband’s hard line against perceived press power. Consider this:  If he [Miliband] crushes the freedom of the Press, no doubt his father will be proud of him from beyond the grave, where he lies 12 yards from the remains of Karl Marx.

But he will have driven a hammer and sickle through the heart of the nation so many of us genuinely love. 

So the smearing of Ralph Miliband is not a new low in the Daily Mail pantheon of misinformation and propaganda. What about the Zinoviev letter? Lord Rothermere’s ‘Youth Trimphant’ praise of Nazi Germany? Or, more recently in 2006, the publication of a league table of newspapers and magazines that paid private investigators to obtain illegal information – where the Daily Mail came top.

The row between Miliband and the Mail is all too familiar. Jonathan Freedland reasoned in today’s Guardian that the newspaper had revealed its ‘ugliest face’.  Whilst acknowledging the point, I’m not sure that’s the case.  At least Miliband had the platform to answer back. For many over the years, there has simply not been that platform.