The Daily Mail's deputy editor Jon Steafel was invited on to BBC Newsnight on Tuesday evening to defend his paper's decision to accuse Ed Miliband's father Ralph of “hating Britain”. He faced Alastair Campbell, who accused the paper's editor, Paul Dacre, of being a “bully and a coward” for not appearing himself, sending his deputy instead.

Campbell, Tony Blair's former spin doctor, said the Daily Mail represented the "worst of British values" and said its editor was "a poison in our national life".

Having tried to defend his paper's initial article as well as a follow up which said Ed Miliband's deceased father had left an "evil legacy", Steafel was accused of simply reading out a "pathetic ramble" of lines written for him by his boss.

"If you do not conform to Paul Dacre's narrow twisted view of the world, as all of his employees like John Steafel have to do, you get done in," Campbell said. "Once you accept you are dealing with a bully and a coward you have absolutely nothing to fear from him."

"It's [the Daily Mail] run by a bully and a coward and like most cowards he is hypocrite as well. Paul Dacre hasn't got the guts himself to come on this programme and defend something which I know John Steafel thinks is not defensible."

Steafel also endured a grilling from Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis, who appeared perplexed by the Daily Mail's deputy editor's defence.

"Your paper wrote, and you restate today, that Ralph Miliband, who fought for this country, his country, in the Second World War, hated Britain. How can you possibly claim that?" she asked.

Steafel insisted he thought it was "reasonable" to highlight Ralph Miliband's "Marxist" views which he said were "antipathetic to the views and values of other British people".

"Ed Miliband seeks to be prime minister, he has made many speeches since he became Labour leader and in many of his speeches he refers to the story of his parents," he said. "So if you are to understand Ed Miliband... you need to understand the values that shaped him."

However he conceded it was an "error of judgement" for the Mail Online website, which is run separately from the newspaper, to use a picture of a grave to illustrate its story.

He said: "I think using that picture was an error of judgement which is why we didn't use it in the newspaper."

And he also said it was not fair to ask whether the current Viscount Rothermere, whose family own the Daily Mail, was tainted by an article written by his grandfather titled "Hurarh for the Blackshirts" in praise of British fascists.

He said: "I don't think so, and most importantly I don't think it's relevant to bring up a piece from 80 years ago that was written by am member of the Rothermere family."

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