A man called Levy was accused this week of questioning the loyalty of Jews by calling a politician’s immigrant father “the man who hated Britain”.
Before you get all upset, let me point out that this is party conference season when the English language is blitzed by hyperbole and few want to be held the morning after to their slogans of the night before. (Hardworking families: what are they, when they’re at home?)
Those caveats aside, Geoffrey Levy’s slur in the Daily Mail against Ralph Miliband, father of the Labour Party leader, is conceivably the ugliest lie promulgated by any British newspaper against a political party since the Mail itself published the fake Zinoviev Letter that cost Labour the 1924 election. Then, as now, the Mail accused Labour of disloyalty to Britain. Then, as now, it knew what it was doing. Then, as now, it saw no reason to apologise.
Quoting a diary written by Miliband senior when he was 17, Levy constructed a child-scaring bogey figure of a fanatical Marxist who wanted to destroy the country that had given him refuge. Levy, in his third sentence, identified Ralph Miliband as “a Jewish immigrant”. Three days later, defending the article, the Mail made no mention of Miliband’s ethnicity. Being Jewish is not, ostensibly, a reason for contemplating treason. In a heavily-spun right of reply, Ed Miliband argued that it was wrong to drag a politician’s family into the public arena, “questioning the patriotism of a man who risked his life for our country”. He fastidiously declined to point out that Lord Rothermere, the Mail’s owner, inherited the title from a press baron who had his picture proudly taken with Adolf Hitler.
The Mail’s response? “We stand by every word we published on Saturday, from the headline to our assertion that the beliefs of Miliband Snr ‘should disturb everyone who loves this country’.”
Anyone who has worked in Rothermere Towers (as I have) will recognise the peculiar strain of paranoid xenophobia that pervades this campaign. The assault on Ralph Miliband taps into bedrock Mail prejudices against foreigners, press regulators, wealth inhibitors and anyone who challenges the Mail’s right “to see the funny side” – a phrase it uses in defence of Levy’s decidedly unfunny profile.
The Mail will not change. This week, its rottweiler editor Paul Dacre was given a new contract by the Rothermeres. Ed Miliband will soon get over his hurt. What remains to disturb us is the disloyalty libel that the Mail pinned this week on a foreign-born Jewish intellectual. I have heard star columnists at the Mail complain of the paper’s innate antisemitism. This Miliband furore may be nastier than it seems.