Breaking Bad is over but Britain has a new, thrilling saga, with an even more evil protagonist. Last Saturday, The Daily Mail published a 'news' article starring Ed Miliband's father Ralph as "The man who hated Britain." Three days on, 'Red Ed' let us know that his Dad indeed loved Britain because he fought in World War II. The Mail refuses to apologise for smearing Ralf Miliband's memory and launched a further attack on his "evil legacy." Later on, thousands of people took to Twitter, mocking the newspaper using #mydadhatedbritain. Now friends and enemies of Miliband Snr stepped into a debate that is reaching absurd proportions.
The point of disagreement is the Mail's article with a lengthy title "The man who hated Britain: Red Ed's pledge to bring back socialism is a homage to his Marxist father. So what did Miliband Snr really believe in? The answer should disturb everyone who loves this country."
The title is as confusing as the article's content. In some places, the author Geoffrey Levy can be easily mistaken for a medium who has interviewed Ralph Miliband's restless socialist spirit. While exposing details from the life of a man deceased nearly 20 years ago, he pushes us to believe that Miliband Snr would today "passionately agree" and "applaud" Ed Milibands political choices. Would he really?
The irony is that The Mail chose a particularly Soviet-style method to smear the leader of the Labour Party. The communist authorities would routinely condemn prominent public figures because of their parents' political opinions or origins. Most Britons know little about the political process under communism, where thousands of politicians, journalists, or artists identified as "the enemies of the regime" were condemned to severe punishment or death. Parents descended from the nobility? Father fought in the Imperial Army? That was enough to be sent to a gulag.
It's hard to deny that the article is in particularly bad taste, but why did the Mail publish a piece about a man who died decades ago in their news section? Why did the newspaper who's efforts of investigative journalism routinely stop at revealing celebs' nipples decide to haunt Britons with the specter of communism?
We get a glimpse of an answer at the end of a lengthy editorial, published on the same day as Ed Miliband's right of reply. While the Mail let the world know they won't apologise for revealing the "evil legacy" of Ed's father, they write:
"Indeed, his son's own 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.
More chillingly, the father's disdain for freedom of expression can be seen in his son's determination to place the British Press under statutory control.
"Next week the Privy Council, itself an arm of the state, will meet to discuss plans [...] for what will ultimately be a politically controlled body to oversee what papers are allowed to publish. [...]
If he 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".
In this light, Ed Miliband's courage to start the war of words against The Mail deserves to be applauded. We rarely have a chance to see a British politician standing up to the Murdoch-owned media. "There was a time when politicians stayed silent if this kind of thing happened," wrote the Labour Party leader in his right of reply, "in the hope that it wouldn't happen again. And fear that if they spoke out, it would make things worse."
Instead of winning the public's support, the Mail's bigotry has backfired. The outrage expressed by public figures from all across the political spectrum is so intense that even Jon Steafel, the normally media-shy Daily Mail's deputy editor, has come out to defend his paper on Newsnight (and got crushed). Meanwhile, ordinary Britons have preferred to take to Twitter and mock the Mail's editorial choices using the #mydadhatedbritain.
So did Ralph Miliband really hate Britain? He can't answer anymore, and his answer wouldn't matter anyway. The problem is that the The Mail has decided an ongoing character assassination of a long-deceased man is an appropriate way to convince its readers that the Labour Party leader, apparently because of his communist DNA, is guaranteed to "crush" the freedom of the UK press.
While all the British media is concerned about the shape of planned press regulation, such editorial choices are extremely unlikely to win over public opinion. With its 'evil legacy' piece, The Mail probably done Miliband and the campaign for more press regulation a lot more good than harm.