Britain's opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband. (Reuters/UK Parliament via Reuters TV)
London—On the weekend before the Conservative Party conference, on a day when the Tory press would normally beat the drums for the latest tax cut for the rich or a new scheme to punish the poor, why would Britain’s Daily Mail instead focus its considerable firepower on the corpse of Ralph Miliband—an academic at the London School of Economics who has been dead since 1994? As the playground bully of British politics, the Mail’s editor Paul Dacre has long been famed for both his temper—his frequent resort to the “c” word during Mail news meetings caused staffers to dub them the “Vagina Monologues”—and his iron grip on the mentality of Middle England. Unlike Rupert Murdoch, who was perfectly willing to be courted by Tony Blair—and whose papers backed New Labour—the Daily Mail has always been a proud beacon of British reaction.
But there was still something odd about the paper, during a week when the Conservatives were desperate for press attention, launching a full-bore attack not on Labour party leader (and former Nation intern) Ed Miliband but on his father. Under the headline “The Man Who Hated Britain,” the Mail described Ralph Miliband, a Belgian refugee from the Holocaust who fled to Britain in 1940 at the age of 16 and served three years in the Royal Navy, as a man with “a giant-sized social chip on his shoulder” who loathed his adoptive country.
The article’s thesis—that “Red Ed’s pledge to bring back socialism is a homage to his Marxist father”—was laughable. Ralph Miliband’s 1961 classic Parliamentary Socialism is a savage indictment of the futility of trying to bring about significant change through the British Labour Party. By choosing parliamentary careers, both his sons rejected their father’s worldview. As Ed commented last week: “My father’s strongly left wing views are well known, as is the fact that I have pursued a different path and I have a different vision.” Nor would Ralph’s own politics—a blend of Marxist skepticism of the intellect and social democratic optimism of the will—actually make him much of a red bogey-man. As the more genteel, but equally right-leaning Daily Telegraph noted in Ralph’s obituary, “Though committed to socialism, he never hesitated to criticise its distortion by Stalin and other dictators.”