“… the Daily Mail ? They just get on everyone’s tits, don’t they?”
- Kate Moss (H/T Lauren Collins)
The Daily Mail is refusing to retreat from its disingenuous attack on Ralph Miliband, the deceased father of Ed Miliband, the Labour leader. However, yesterday in its defiant – if catastrophically ironic – leader it has also called for a “dispassionate and honest debate”. So here goes.
The newspaper says it wants to discuss “the views of his father and their influence on Britain’s would-be Prime Minister.” No man can hear the “distant footsteps” of another’s father, as the poet Cesar Vallejo wrote. But the Mail is wrong. Its implication is that a Miliband premiership would be an exercise in proving his father right. However, if we must personalise it, his government would be better cast as an effort to prove Tony Blair wrong.
In an interview with today’s Evening Standard, Mr Miliband again notes the differences between him and his “utopian intellectual” father, such as on the merits of public ownership. Without this post descending into a Fabian symposium, it should be obvious that the son has a different view of capitalism than the father.
On Saturday, I wrote about Miliband the younger’s new populism, which sees “vested interests” in the economy as the enemy and government as the remedy. Using an active state to improve the dynamism of the market may not be your thing. It may be utopian in its own way. But it is not Marxism.
(The Daily Mail adds that Marxism’s “baneful influence” is “still taught in universities”. Some college professors are indeed lefties (hi Dad!). But when, for example, the Royal Economics Society looked at problems with economics teaching after the crisis, it neglected to mention the abiding influence of Lenin.)
Miliband senior’s views on capitalism are only part of the attack. Another aspect is the idea that he “hated” Britain. The newspaper’s leader quotes from the father:
“His disdain for Britain included: ‘Eton and Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge, the great Clubs, the Times, the Church, the Army, the respectable Sunday papers…
‘It also means the values of the ruling orders, keep the workers in their place, strengthen the House of Lords, maintain social hierarchies, God save the Queen, equality is bunk, democracy is dangerous etc…
‘Also 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.’
And these are the words of a man who ‘loved Britain’?”
I have absolutely no idea but I’m inclined to believe those who studied the man.
Regardless, there are also a few points to make about this line of argument. First, note that the word “disdain” is the Mail’s, not Milband’s. Second, the paper has its own views on the things in this list. Third, why does asking whether you love your country always sound like a threat rather than a question?
Fourth, and most important, the Daily Mail has no exclusivity on defining patriotism. Lauren Collins’s brilliant New Yorker essay on the paper captures this essence.
…. One editor told me, “The paper’s defining ideology is that Britain has gone to the dogs.”
The Mail presents itself as the defender of traditional British values, the voice of an overlooked majority whose opinions inconvenience the agendas of metropolitan élites …
It is fine to think that the country is going to the dogs and love it dearly. But I reserve the right to think things are going okay and love it too. The Olympics were a symbol that pluralism and patriotism can go together. Public opinion surveys show an increasingly socially tolerant country which has many mixed identities.
It is legitimate for the Daily Mail to ask what Ralph Miliband believed, and the extent to which his son shares those views. In doing so, it showed the instincts that make it such a success – asking questions others won’t, and personalising issues. But in doing so it also showed the instincts that can make it such a pernicious influence – stretching stories beyond credulity and presuming it is the only judge in town.