Thursday, 3 October 2013

Milibands & the Daily Mail

THE case against the late Ralph Miliband (the father of Ed. and David Miliband) put by Geoffrey Levy in last Saturday's Daily Mail is well argued, but whether the headline 'The Man Who Hated Britain' is justified is much more problematic. It certainly raises some interesting points about the attitudes of many left-wing people to Englishness when Mr. Levy quotes from the 17-year-old Ralph Miliband's diary: 
'The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalistic people in the world... you sometimes want them almost to lose (the war) to show them how things are. They have the greatest contempt for the Continent... To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation.' 

This kind of little Englander 'nationalism' and distrust of Europe still runs through general supporters of all the main parties in this country like a stick of Blackpool Rock.  When one thinks of the popularist right-wing UKIP and the leftist no2EU party today, and the general attitude to Europe as expressed in popular papers like the Sun and Mail, it would be easy to agree with the young Ralph Miliband. And further quotes from later essays rub home the point:
'... respectability, good taste, don't rock the boat, there will always be an England, foreigners, Jews, natives etc are all right in their place and their place is outside...'

Meanwhile, both David Cameron and Nick Clegg came to the defence of their parliamentary colleague saying that it was reasonable for Ed. Miliband to defend his dead father. The Mail has mainly taken the offensive apologising only for showing a photo of Ralph Miliband's grave in Highgate cemetry; the Daily Mail deputy editor Jon Steafel defended the paper's article on BBC's Newsnight saying:
'We felt, and we think we produced evidence to support it, that he [Ralph Miliband] hated British values, and that his views in many areas were antipathetic to British values...' 

However, he conceded that using a picture of Ralph Milliband's grave, with the caption 'grave socialist' for the Mail Online website was 'an error of judgement', adding 'which is why we didn't use it in the newspaper.'

For his part the Labour leader said it had ‘overstepping’ the boundaries of civilised debate by deliberately ‘besmirching and undermining’ his father Ralph, who died in 1994. 

Geoffrey Levy in his piece in the Mail writes that Ralph Miliband fell under the influence of Harold Laski, a Marxist academic who taught Ralph politics at Cambridge in the 1940s. In January this year Neil Clark in the New Statesman wrote that Ed. Miliband should follow his father’s example and give the ideas of Harold Laski a dose of looking at.  Curiously in 1945, Professor Laski, then Chairman of the National Executive of the Labour Party, took out a libel action against the Newark Advertiser which had reported a speech by Laski implying he had advocated revolution by violence. Laski lost the case, and the Labour Party set up a fund to help Laski pay his considerable legal costs. Now the Daily Mail is arguing that Ed. Miliband wants to gag the media, and in his defence of his father he writes ‘I know you can’t libel the dead but you can smear them’

Public figures or those involved in political life ought to expect to be attacked, and academics should expect the same treatment. More than a decade ago some people now attached to Northern Voices published a booklet ‘Chomsky & His Critics’, in which a number of Manchester academics questioned Professor Chomsky’s linguistics and we got a lot of stick from people who defended Chomsky’s politics, and therefore didn’t think we should seek to undermine his linguistics. I believe that the Daily Mail was entitled to publish its critique of Ralph Miliband, whether it is accurate or fair is another matter. 

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