03/10/2013 09:49 BST | Updated 03/12/2013 05:12 GMT

Was Anti-Semitism Lurking Behind the 'Daily Mail's Attack on Ralph Miliband?

What is really going on at the Daily Mail?

Their attack on Ralph Miliband is so preposterous that there must be a hidden motive behind it. But what?

Yes, he was a Marxist - and the Mail does not like Marxists - but that was then, not now. It was at a time when many respectable academics were on the far left. Many of them have changed their position in the light of recent history, and it may well have been that Ralph Miliband would have done so too.

But forget about his views, look at his deeds. He chose to live here and bring up his children here. He rejected the option of leaving the UK and going to America. More than that, he fought for this country. He served in the armed forces. He risked his life for Britain.

So, given such flimsy evidence for his apparent hatred of Britain, why is the Mail claiming he was so evil? Three options spring to mind.

One is that it is based on anti-semitism. That is a charge that would be horrendous if true. Moreover, Ralph Miliband was an atheist, so it would have to be anti-semitism on racial grounds rather than religious ones. That would put the Mail in the same category as Hitler who defined a Jew as anyone with one Jewish grandparent - nothing to do with faith and purely according to their birth. I am sure - at least I hope I am sure - that the paper would never wish to be associated in the same sentence as Hitler.

Maybe, instead, their motive was xenophobia and a dislike of immigrants and foreigners. Do they wish to sack half of the Premier League players, many of the London underground staff, thousands of NHS workers? Perhaps they do, but why demonise sometime who has already died and can no longer be repatriated or expelled or whatever it is they wish to do?

The third alternative is that it was nothing to do with Ralph and everything to do with Ed. It was just an attack on the Labour leader by the backdoor and part of a campaign to chip away at his standing, rubbishing not only his policies but also his pedigree.

Not only is this highly unpleasant - attacks should be against a person's political programme, not their family background - but it has backfired enormously.

It has brought back memories of the bad old days - though not that old - when papers hounded individuals or intruded on their privacy in ways that had nothing to do with the public good.

It has also backfired politically - both because it has given Ed Miliband a sympathetic cause in the public mind ('good on him for standing up for his dad') and it has distracted attention from the Conservative Party conference and the Mail-approving message it was trying to convey.

Still, although the most likely explanation is that the Mail simply made an error of political judgement, there is still a dirty smell of possible anti-semitism lurking within that approach.

It might have been a deliberate attempt to promote a narrative that characterises Ed Miliband as not only politically dangerous, but also 'not really one of us' in other senses too.

The Labour leader has never hidden his immigrant Jewish roots - and indeed has openly referred to them as part of his deep love of Britain and what it stands for - but could the Mail have been trying to turn this more negatively and spin an image of a fifth columnist outsider, using subterranean anti-semitic strains to boost its efforts?

Only the Mail can reveal its true motives, but, even if innocent, the fact that it has sailed so close to such a line is to be regretted. Stirring up religious and racial passions is something we associate with the Nazis or the Golden Dawn party. It would be very un-British for the Mail to do that too.