Miliband family v Daily Mail: public rage mounts

Childhood influence: If the father affected the son’s politics, is he a fair target?

The Daily Mail has claimed the Labour leader’s father ‘hated Britain’ and left an ‘evil’ legacy. Ed Miliband furiously denies it. How do we judge if a person loves their country?

‘I am constantly coming across friends of my parents who shake their heads in disappointment and say, your dad would not approve,’ Ed Miliband told a newspaper yesterday.

Why did the Labour leader feel he had to disown some of his father’s opinions? Because he is battling possibly the most fearsome newspaper in the UK, the Daily Mail , which on Saturday launched an extraordinary attack on the life of Ralph Miliband, a prominent left-wing thinker until his death in 1994.

The Mail claimed he had infected his son – who could be the country’s prime minister within two years – with opinions that showed he ‘hated’ Britain. As a 17-year-old man arriving in the UK after fleeing the Nazis, he wrote in his diary that Britons were ‘nationalistic’ and arrogant. Once he became a university professor, they claimed, his energies were devoted to defending the crimes of communist regimes across the world and undermining British institutions including the monarchy, the Church of England and the armed services.

It is undoubtedly true that Ralph Miliband was a lifelong socialist who deeply admired Karl Marx and vigorously attacked the national traditions he saw as conservative. Miliband senior, the Mail claimed, had left an ‘evil legacy’ – a phrase which raised eyebrows across the rest of the media because it was applied to a man who had himself fled the Holocaust.

‘This country saved his life,’ a visibly angry Ed Miliband retorted, calling the Mail ’s accusation ‘a lie’. And supporters leapt to the Labour leader’s defence on other counts too, pointing out that he had consistently condemned the atrocities committed in the name of communism. One of his supporters accused the newspaper of a distorting patriotism: ‘The Daily Mail is the worst of British values posing as the best,’ said Tony Blair’s former spokesman, Alastair Campbell.

Hating Britain

The Daily Mail and its supporters believe that a man such as Ralph Miliband hated Britain because he spent much of his life criticising what they see as the British ‘way of life’. As a Marxist he was not a supporter of capitalism, and he saw the country’s most prestigious institutions as the bastions of an oppressive ideology.

How shallow! cry his defenders. Lord Green, the former chairman of HSBC and current minister for trade in David Cameron’s government, is a great admirer of Marx. So are many other highly respectable people. To criticise Britain from the left is not to hate it. George Orwell puzzled over whether the British ruling class were ‘wicked’ or ‘stupid’, while Charles Dickens attacked everything from law courts to factory owners. All saw deep flaws in British society; yet their frustration was born out of love for their country, not hate.

You Decide

  1. Michael Heseltine, a senior Conservative, said the Daily Mail’s attack ‘demeans politics’. Is he right?
  2. What makes someone patriotic? Is it a desirable quality?

Activities

  1. Write a list of five things you genuinely hate about Britain. And then five things you love.
  2. Write a letter to Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT explaining why you think he was wrong, or right, to attack Miliband’s father.

Some People Say...

“Politicians use their families when it suits them.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Who cares what Ralph Miliband thought of Britain? He’s not the one running for office.
Well, quite: most people find the idea of attacking someone for their parents’ beliefs tasteless and offensive. Nevertheless, it’s true that we are all hugely influenced by the values and priorities of the people we grew up with, be they parents, teachers or childhood friends.
Not me – I came to my opinions by myself.
Good for you – keep up the independent thinking. But none of us develops our beliefs in a vacuum: you are always drawing on or reacting against the people around you, even if it feels like you are only using logic. You’ll never be totally objective, so your best shot is probably to acknowledge the things that influence you and take them into account.

Word Watch

Daily Mail
A populist right-wing tabloid founded in 1896, which has been involved in more than its fair share of controversies. Before World War Two the paper was notoriously supportive of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and more recently it has been regularly criticised for its treatment of women. But it is also the second most popular newspaper in Britain and the most visited newspaper website in the world.
Karl Marx
Economic historian and philosopher (1818-1883) who argued that capitalism was an inherently unstable system plagued by conflict between industrialists and the labourers who worked for them. Marx thought (and hoped) that the working class would inevitably rise up and overthrow capitalism, ultimately replacing it with a socialist paradise.
Communism
In 1917, the Russian government was overthrown by a group of Marxist revolutionaries. They established a socialist dictatorship, claimed all property for the state and purged the country of people they believed to be counter-revolutionaries. Many socialists remained loyal to the USSR and the states that followed its example, but others (including Ralph Miliband) claimed that these countries did not truly represent Marx’s ideas.

Subjects

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