News this week was dominated by the feud between the Daily Mail and Labour leader Ed Miliband. It began with the Mail‘s allegation that Ed’s father, socialist academic Ralph Miliband, “hated Britain”. Ed Miliband asked for right of reply so as to defend his father (who died in 1994). The Mail refused to apologise, and a national debate began. Embarrassingly for the paper, the fallout has brought to light their founder Lord Rothermere’s Nazi sympathies.
Suffice to say I am with Ed Miliband every step of the way. There cannot be a politician in the land – certainly not one to the left of Godfrey Bloom – who hasn’t at some point been smeared or misrepresented by the Daily Mail.
One of my most recent run-ins came in 2010, when they wrongly reported that I had “refused to say which way I voted” on the EU’s Pregnant Worker’s Directive. The article was wilfully misleading, aiming to destabilise a measure which supported working women and thus went against the paper’s hard-right ideology. The subsequent retraction – which came 6 months later after 15 letters and the involvement of the Press Complaints Commission – was as disingenuous as it was belated.
More recently, in 2012, the paper published an untrue article claiming the EU were trying to ban certain children’s books, under the headline ‘Now Brussels takes aim at The Famous Five!’ I wrote to them explaining that the story was unfounded. They refused to publish my letter on the puzzling basis that that, even if the original story wasn’t true “in so many words” at the time of reporting, it might one day become so. As they put it, “It may, of course, be something which isn’t legally binding today – but tomorrow? … Forewarned is forearmed.”
The Mail thrives on infamy, and will try to brush off this week’s events. However, my suspicion is that the Ralph Miliband episode – and the things it has drawn to light about the paper’s history and working practices – will damage them in the long run. The British people have a stronger antennae for what ‘Britishness’ is than any newspaper or politician. I feel certain that they will ultimately decide casting slurs, distorting the truth and closing down debate should not be part of it.
Earlier in the week, meanwhile, David Cameron used his Conference speech to again put young people between the cross-hairs, this time by arguing that those under 25 should lose their benefits. “There are still over a million young people not in education, employment, or training,” he said. “Today it is possible to leave school, sign on, find a flat…and opt for a life on benefits.”
The proposal, which would hit single mums – who comprise 40% of the group – hardest, shows a staggering disconnect between cause and effect. In an era of austerity and high unemployment, with tuition fees trebled and EMA abolished, young people have been backed into a corner by Conservative policies. To penalise them for then needing to claim benefits is a failure of logic as much as a failure of compassion.