Daily Mail: Patriotism and the sins of the father
Communists hate the Daily Mail even more than Ed Miliband, writes Eddie Ford, but reject Leveson and any moves towards state regulation of the press
Still making the headlines, Ed Miliband’s ongoing war with the Daily Mail over his late father can only boost his poll ratings and overall political prestige. That in no way implies, of course, that his response to the now notorious September 27 article attacking Ralph Miliband as a loony Marxist who “hated Britain” was anything less than heartfelt or genuine. The news that a Mail on Sunday reporter had gatecrashed a memorial service for his uncle merely reinforced the feeling that the Labour leader was conducting a righteous battle against the odious Paul Dacre, editor of the Mail.
Then again, in politics you should never look a gift horse in the mouth. Whilst Miliband did not pick the fight, it is true to say that the timing suited him well. His popularity was already on the rise after promising to freeze fuel prices, scrap the hated bedroom tax, ‘strengthen’ the minimum wage, end the “misuse” of zero-hours contracts and even “bring back socialism” - or so Miliband said in a pre-conference question-and-answer session in Brighton (Miliband’s aides seem to be ditching ‘triangulation’ in favour of tacking slightly to the left and concentrating on Labour’s core voters).
His struggle against the paper is proving, if anything, to be even more popular. A Sunday Times poll indicated that at least 72% of the British public disapproved of the Mail article, penned by Geoffrey Levy, and most people, including readers of the Mail, think the newspaper should apologise - as demanded by Ed Miliband and others.
As for Dacre though, his timing could not have been worse. More like a suicide mission in fact, given that the privy council was just about to meet in order to finalise its recommendations following the Leveson inquiry, which were for a “tougher form” of supposed self-regulation backed by legislation. Levy’s article, needless to say, just acted to further empower those who want to curb the power of the press in some way or another - which, of course, includes the morally renewed Ed Miliband. However, Maria Miller, the culture secretary, turned over the apple cart. Invoking the spirit of “300 years of press freedom”, she has called for a compromise deal with the press barons. The privy council is expected to come to a final decision on October 30.
Some are sensing treachery. Actor and former heart-throb Hugh Grant declared that any “further compromise” by ministers over press regulation would be a “betrayal of the promises” made to media abuse victims, such as himself and the families of Milly Dowler and Madeleine McCann. In his opinion, the government was “terrified of the press” - hard to deny - and was doing all it could to “oblige the press barons”. Indeed, argued Grant - a leading member of the Hacked Off campaign - unnamed senior Tories are guilty of an “abuse of democracy” by trying to “sabotage” plans for a royal charter already agreed by all the mainstream parties.
Representatives of the press industry, on the other hand, expressed concern that the general drift was towards authoritarianism. Roger Alton, executive editor of The Times, told the BBC that the Leveson plans - “improved” or otherwise - amount to an “unjust law”. According to him, the newspaper industry had already made “extraordinary concessions” on regulation - especially when you consider that there are plenty of laws “engulfing the press” as things stand now.”
We in the CPGB could not be any more explicit about where we stand on this issue. We may hate the Daily Mail - and the entire moneyed bourgeois press, for that matter - but we oppose any attempt at state censorship or control of what is published. If that means we are on the same side as Paul Dacre, Richard Littlejohn, Hugh Whittow, Tony Gallagher, etc - so be it. A price worth paying. We demand freedom of the press and will not tolerate some bureaucratic creep trying to interfere - for example - with the Weekly Worker. Our communist project of human liberation cannot succeed unless we convince the majority of people of the necessity for the revolutionary overthrow of the bureaucratic capitalist state - not an obvious or ‘common sense’ message. Hence we fight for the right to openly say what we want in the way we want, in whatever medium we care to choose.
It goes without saying, therefore, that we communists dismiss out of hand the madcap - and nightmarish - notion of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, which has proposed that the media should be nationalised and duly allocated to organisations on the basis of their ‘proven support’ - except for fascists, who are beyond the pale. You do not have to scratch your head too much to work out who is going to control and supervise this allocation of resources or decide who exactly is fascist - state bureaucrats, albeit ‘red’ ones.
There should be an unrestrained ‘free market’ when it comes to ideas. We have every confidence that our ideas, those of Marxism and communism, will win mass support because they are true.
Of course, the original September 27 article was truly foul - even by Daily Mail standards, which are about as low as you can get. It was a classic bit of old fashioned red-baiting from a newspaper which has form when it comes to such operations, having helped bring down the 1924 Labour government by publishing the forged Zinoviev letter. Naturally, the Mail relies on the ignorance of its readers. Ralph was a Marxist, Stalin was a Marxist, therefore Ralph was a Stalinist - and hence by extension so too is Ed. The obvious objective is not to just smear the Milibands, but to prevent Labour getting into government. Scarily, it also gives us a glimpse of what the future would be like if the working class movement, and the far left, ever became a serious force in British politics - it would face attacks like this every day and on a far bigger, nastier, scale.
With a sort of unintended grim humour, Geoffrey Levy proves the very point made by the 17-year-old Ralph Miliband in his diary - that “the Englishman is a rabid nationalist” and “perhaps the most nationalist people in the world”, so much so that you “sometimes want them almost to lose [the war] to show them how things are”. Furthermore, the Englishman has the “greatest contempt for the continent” and to “lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation” - had Ralph Miliband been reading the Mail by any chance?
Levy recounts in horror the “disdain” that Miliband senior felt for the British establishment - including Eton and Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge, the Church of England, the army, the “respectable” Sunday papers?, etc. For Miliband, as Levy quotes, that also meant detesting 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” - not to mention “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”. The man is obviously a barbarian.
Madly, we are meant to believe that Ed Miliband is carrying out the mission of his father. Red Ed’s “pledge to bring back socialism”, we read, is a “homage to his Marxist father” - we are reminded that his leadership victory over his brother was only made possible through the unions’ block votes, something “perfectly in step” with his father’s “fervent and undimmed conviction” that the alliance with the trade unions is Labour’s “greatest strength”. So Ralph, writes Levy, would also have applauded his son’s proclamation that he would cap energy prices - an announcement that has “already knocked billions off share prices, affecting many ordinary workers’ pension funds”. The dangers of socialism.
True, Ed Miliband did get to reply in the Mail. However, the paper ran Miliband’s riposte on October 1 next to a republished version of the original offending article and alongside an editorial not only refusing to apologise, but actually stepping up the attack levels. What is “blindingly clear” about Ralph Miliband, the editorial says, is that he had “nothing but hatred” for the values, traditions and institutions that made Britain the “safe and free nation in which he and his family flourished”. The constitutional monarchy, the bicameral legislature, property rights, common law, etc were all “anathema” to this “unreconstructed Marxist who craved a workers’ revolution”. In which case, though the Labour leader may be proud of his father’s war record as a volunteer in the navy during World War II, “isn’t it permissible to surmise that a man who had expressed such views joined the Royal Navy not so much to fight for Britain as to fight, like the Soviet Union, against the Nazis?”
Going to the heart of the matter, at least for the Mail, we are informed that Marxism “supplied the philosophical underpinning to a monstrously evil regime”, where “countless millions were murdered, tortured, starved to death, executed or sent to endure a sub-human existence in the gulags” - where “freedom of expression was purged” and “dissidents were locked in mental asylums”. It is for that reason, we discover, that the Mail will never apologise for highlighting Ralph Miliband’s “evil legacy” nor desist from showing how Ed Miliband is determined to crush press freedom in a way that would “drive a hammer and sickle through the heart of the nation”. Rabid sentiments, it should be noted, that were essentially endorsed by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt - who noted that Ralph Miliband “was no friend of the free market” and that he had “never heard” Ed Miliband saying he supports the free market. George Osborne, meanwhile, could not resist accusing Ed Miliband of making “essentially the same argument” Karl Marx made in Capital - proving that the chancellor is indeed a cretin and that Oxford University will give a 2:1 degree to anybody.
Comments implying that Ralph Miliband had a soft spot for the Soviet Union are pitiful slander. He was a life-long anti-Stalinist and fierce critic of the Soviet bureaucracy. Something candidly admitted in The Daily Telegraph’s obituary of the man, which accurately described him as someone who “never hesitated to criticise” the “distortion” of Marxism by Stalin and always “inveighed against the timidity and limited horizons of west European social democracy” - as the “ideal he sought was a democratic and open Marxism” (June 7 1994). This commitment to revolutionary democracy and humanism, in the true Marxist sense of the term, shines through his excellent Parliamentary socialism - a rigorous rebuttal of the notion that there was a Labour Party ‘golden age’ and that the working class should rely on Labour as a vehicle for socialism. And those who say that Ralph Miliband would be turning in his grave are right - the Marxist Ralph would abhor the dull Labourism of Ed, who seeks a ‘reformed’ and ‘progressive’ capitalism. A reactionary utopia.
What is apparent from the Mail’s denigrations, and also those who lined up to defend Ed, whether on the liberal left or the mainstream centre-right, is that everyone is expected to be a patriot - as we have been told a thousand times, Ralph proved that he loved the country by volunteering to join the British navy and fight the evil Nazis. Must have been a good egg. Communists, however, find no need to court the title of patriot. We do not champion our country in opposition to all others.
Yes, of course, you can locate progressive traditions and movements in British history - Levellers, Diggers, Chartists, and so on. But that is true for every nation - there will inevitably be progressive and reactionary features in any society. We should then seek to locate the universal, not the particular or exclusive.
Like Tom Paine, communists are citizens of the world and are loyal to what is best and most advanced in humanity - not individual countries. Marx, after all, was a cosmopolitan - a truly international person, as racists and anti-Semites never tire of pointing out. Ralph Miliband too, being both a Marxist and Jewish, was a highly cosmopolitan individual in terms of politics, education, languages and culture.