There has always been a dark undercurrent to some of the criticism of Ed Miliband. He is just a little too intellectual, too metropolitan, too “north London” for some tastes.
Add to this mix his refugee, Marxist father with a dubious loyalty to Britain, and the ingredients are all there for the kind of vicious attack published by the Daily Mail this week.
I have always been wary of calling this dark undercurrent “antisemitism”, but the Daily Mail’s leader about the Milibands and Marxism (headline: “An evil legacy and why we won’t apologise”) dripped with the nastiest kind of prejudice.
Ed Miliband was understandably upset by the original attack on his father for writing (as a 17-year-old) that “the Englishman is a rabid nationalist”. He has pointed out that his father loved Britain because it provided him with a refuge from the Nazis. He is proud that his father served in the navy of his adopted country during the war.
Yes, Ralph Miliband was a public intellectual, whose reputation is a legitimate subject for discussion. Yes, the Labour leader has made a point of placing his family’s history at the centre of his personal narrative.
But on this score, it seems, Mr Miliband cannot win. Not so long ago I was having discussions with prominent members of the Jewish community who were urging him to embrace his Jewish refugee roots. Now, perhaps, they will understand his initial reticence.
The Daily Mail’s article was childish and hysterical. The newspaper is diminished by its actions. This whole episode could be dismissed if this half-crazed editorial had not appeared in a mainstream publication with a large circulation and considerable political influence.
Saturday’s attack on Ralph Miliband quoted his list of distasteful attitudes of the British Establishment: “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 the outside…”
In 2013, is it too much to hope that such attitudes no long prevail?
I am proud of the country that gave refuge to Ralph Miliband and nurtured two sons who grew up to become successful politicians. I am proud that Britain’s political culture was able to tolerate his heartfelt, if at times wrong-headed Marxist critique. This is the mark of a genuinely free country.
A newspaper which in the 1930s ran editorials praising Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts is in no position to preach to a man who fought for this country. The Mail quotes Deuteronomy and says it does not believe the iniquity of the fathers should be visited on the sons.
The same should be applied to the newspaper itself, which has at times defied its reputation as a right-wing rag. A paper that helped to campaign to bring the racist killers of Stephen Lawrence to justice should be better than this.