By John Jewell, Cardiff University
The Daily Mail's now infamous essay described Ed Miliband's father, Ralph, the socialist academic who died in 1994, as "the man who hated Britain".
That, normally, would have been that. It's hardly news when a right wing newspaper attacks a 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 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 at, and the publicity generated by, Levy's article that the editor of the Mail, Paul Dacre, provided space in today's paper for him to reply. Miliband wrote:
It is 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 its 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 its original point.
One cannot help but feel Miliband has been sucker punched here. Sure, his defence of his father is heartfelt and his courage in taking on the Daily Mail is to be applauded. But 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:
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.
And is the smearing of Ralph Miliband is a new low for the Daily Mail in its pantheon of misinformation and propaganda? Hardly. What about the Zinoviev letter? Or Lord Rothermere's "Youth Trimphant" praise of Nazi Germany? Or, more recently in 2006, the league table of newspapers and magazines that paid private investigators to obtain illegal information - in which 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". I'm not sure that's the case. At least Miliband had the platform to answer back.
John Jewell does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.