The left wing in Britain is up in arms over a hatchet job published last weekend by the Daily Mail on the father of Ed Miliband, Labour party leader and the man who, in two years, may become Britain's first Jewish prime minister. The lengthy essay on Ralph Miliband, a prominent Marxist academic who arrived in Britain as a 16-year-old refugee fleeing the Nazi German conquest of his native Belgium, is titled "The Man Who Hated Britain" and is basically a collection cherry-picked quotes from his diaries, writings and biography chosen to portray him as a man who detested the country that gave him safe haven and its traditions.
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Upon closer inspection, the proof of Miliband's Brit-hatred is quite patchy. One piece of evidence is a diary entry, written only a year after he arrived in Britain in which he says, "The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist 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."
Other quotes relate to his trenchant views against the British class system, favoring nationalization of public resources and his vehement opposition to the 1982 Falklands War. All certainly radical-left views, but not necessarily anti-British. But that didn't stop the paper from printing "So what did Miliband Snr really believe in? The answer should disturb everyone who loves this country" above the piece.
Ed Miliband has rebutted angrily, writing his own piece in the Daily Mail on Monday about his father's love for his adopted homeland, detailing his service during with the Royal Navy World War II while making sure to distance himself from his father's "strongly" left-wing views. Miliband emphasized, "Whatever else is said about my Dad’s political views, Britain was a source of hope and comfort for him, not hatred… He loved Britain for the security it offered his family and the gentle decency of our nation." This hasn't changed the Mail's view: The paper not only republished a shorter version of the original piece but ran an op-ed that said Ralph Miliband had indeed served in the Royal Navy but that he was intent on fighting the Nazis, not fighting for Britain.
Left-wing commentators and politicians have ripped into the Daily Mail on the air and in print, many of them mentioning the paper's own dark history, including its short-lived support of the British Fascist party in the 1930s.
Despite the popularity of the Daily Mail, Britain's second-most selling title and traditionally "the paper of Middle England," the smearing of Miliband's father is unlikely to cause him much damage. There hasn't been a Red Scare in Britain for decades, especially not since Labour ejected most of its radical elements during the 1980s and made a sharp turn toward the middle-ground of politics, under Tony Blair in the 1990s. Some have even suggested that the piece on Miliband Sr. will actually increase public sympathy for his son. But it could be part of a more accumulative process in which the right-wing press and the Conservative party are trying to frame Miliband as "Red Ed," due to his perceived closeness to trade unions and the policies he unveiled last week (at the party's annual conference) such as freezing gas prices and possible land appropriations that hark back to the party's more Socialist days.
Miliband's weakest point, according to recent surveys, is that many British voters cannot see the relatively young (he's 43) and rather awkward man as a future prime minister. This perceived unsuitability will likely play into attack campaigns against him over the next year and a half until the general elections. But the Daily Mail has taken it further. In trying to paint a picture of a candidate beholden to his "Britain-hating" father, the paper is trying to create an atmosphere of something "not quite right" about Miliband, even something not quite British, especially when compared to his rival, the patrician Eton-educated incumbent, Prime Minister David Cameron.
To be honest, Miliband has made his family's background fair game for scrutiny. While growing up, he was never a member of any Jewish community or organization, yet over the last two years, he has begun to highlight his family story in speeches and columns, stressing how the way Britain took in his parents, Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, reflects on the country's best traditions. He mentioned it again this week in his rebuttal piece. But fair game should also mean fair play – and the Daily Mail seems to have overstepped the boundaries.
No British Jewish organization has yet to voice objections to the Daily Mail piece, and it will be surprising if they do. The Mail, after all, is seen as a paper that is on the "right" side. It doesn't publish articles critical of Israel, it champions the same conservative middle-class values that many Jews espouse and until recently it was home to the favorite columnist of right-wing British Jewry, Melanie Phillips. Some observers have wondered whether the choice of writer for the Ralph Miliband essay, Geoffrey Levy – not a journalist noted for his political writing – had something to do with a premeditated effort to ward off any accusations of latent anti-Semitism.
The Jews of Britain have long been deeply involved across the political spectrum, but Levy's piece, which mentions other famed Jewish Marxists like Harold Laski and Eric Hobsbawm, both of whom were close to Ralph Miliband, conjures up an age when "Jewish Communists" was a slur common among parts of the right-wing. No mainstream publication would question Ed MIliband's patriotism on account of his Jewishness, but that is already happening on far-left and far-right websites, and even in some of the readers' comments on the Daily Mail site. It is, however, disconcerting that a nasty drip-drip campaign appears to be taking shape, based on Miliband's family background, that is aimed at chipping away his legitimacy to one day be prime minister of Britain.