The Daily Mail has long held pride
of place amongst British newspapers as the self-styled champion of the middle
classes. Unlike the more vulgar tabloids, it likes to be regarded as
respectable and serious. With its weekend sister paper, The Mail on Sunday, it seeks to project itself as representative of
“the best of British” – patriotic, anti-immigrant, opposed to “welfare
scroungers”, conservative (with a small and a large “C”). In short, it is very
In late September, at the end of the political parties’ conference season, the paper published an article about Ralph Miliband, father of Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband. Miliband senior died in 1994. From the 1950s until his death he was well known on the left of British politics as a Marxist academic and author of several influential books and numerous articles for the Socialist Register which he founded and edited for many years. The Mail’s article about him was a crude hatchet-job which ran under the title The Man Who Hated Britain. It was pretty obvious that the real target for the paper’s bile was Ed Miliband; the message its readers were intended to take to heart was “like father, like son”: if the country is foolish enough to elect a Labour government in 2015, do we really think that he is fit to be prime minister? The right-wing press, led by the Mail likes to refer to Ed Miliband as Red Ed, despite the fact that he has committed to nothing more radical than some mildly social-democratic policies nowhere near as bold as anything associated with Roosevelt’s New Deal. But they fear that he could move away from the neo-liberalism that has prevailed from Thatcher’s day, through New Labour, to the present Tory-led coalition. The Mail has clearly decided to unleash its attack dogs against him personally.
To Ed Miliband’s credit he has decided to defend himself against the Mail’s assault. His demand for an apology from the paper for having slandered his father has been rejected by editor Paul Dacre. His request for the right to reply was grudgingly granted but the reply appeared alongside a reprint of the original offending article and an editorial comment repeating the claim that Ralph Miliband had hated Britain. It emerged that further offence had been committed by under-cover reporters gate-crashing a Milband family memorial gathering for a deceased uncle who was an eminent surgeon. The reporters questioned guests to seek information that would assist the paper’s slanders against Ralph Miliband. Despite a massive backlash of anger against the paper, its editor and Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail and General Trust, the company behind the two Mail titles, there has so far been no apology for the Man Who Hated Britain article that started the whole furore.
But there has also been some reticence about confronting the Rothermere papers’ malignant history of dirty trickery, defamation, racism and worse. Rothermer’s press empire, like Rupert Murdoch’s, is very powerful and has inspired fear in generations of politicians and public figures anxious to avoid having to face the full blast of a sustained onslaught by the Daily Mail or the Sun. It would, perhaps, be less important to recall the Mail’s association with Fascism and Nazism in the 1920s and 30s if the paper’s owners and editors had apologized and genuinely turned over a new leaf. But they haven’t. Essentially they are committed to the same politics and journalistic standards now as they were then. It is therefore important to be clear about their past and to make clear how it continues up to the present.
In December 1923 the first Labour government was elected, taking office in January 1924. It was a minority government and remained in office for less than a year with the support of the Liberals. It accomplished little. It did, however, sign a trade agreement with the new Soviet government in Russia. Although Ramsay MacDonald and his ministers hadn’t the slightest sympathy for the Bolsheviks, this did not prevent the Daily Mail treating them as a bunch of dangerous Reds. In October 1924, during an election campaign, the paper published the notorious “Zinoviev Letter” ( almost certainly a Foreign Office forgery, passed surreptitiously to the paper) which purported to be advice from the leader of the Communist International to the British Communist Party urging its members to support the Anglo-Soviet trade treaties. The fury with which the Tories and their supporters, cheered on by the Mail, attacked the government as agents of Bolshevism, played a decisive part in Labour’s defeat at the polls.
In the 1930s Lord Rothermere’s top foreign correspondent was George Ward Price, an admirer of Hitler and Mussolini His admiration was shared by Rothermere himself. The Daily Mail’s infatuation with Sir Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists and Nazi Germany in the 30s is too well-known to need further comment. What is less well-known is that the paper’s fascist sympathies went way back into the 1920s. In his apologia for Hitler and Mussolini, I Know these Dictators, published in 1937, Ward Price included the facsimile of a letter he had received from Mussolini in 1926. It read:
“My dear Price, I am very glad that you have become a Director of the Daily Mail, and I am sure that your very popular and widely read newspaper will continue to be a sincere friend of Fascist Italy. With best wishes and greetings, Mussolini. Rome, 11 Nov., ’26.
In its latest attempt at character assassination against Ed Miliband through the attack on his father, the Mail has been most indignant in attempting to deny the accusation of anti-Semitism. To suggest such a thing is outrageous, it expostulates. Now clearly there has been no question of resorting to overt anti-Semitism. Since 1945 it is no longer acceptable in polite company to do that. The old mealy-mouthed evasion to the effect that “it is people like X (member of Group Y) that give Group Y a bad name” will no longer do. Those inclined to engage in this form of racism must face the riposte that “it is people like Hitler that have given anti-Semitism a bad name.” If one doubts the validity of this, one has only to look back at the 1920s and 1930s to see just how pervasive overt anti-Semitism was in literature and political commentary in Britain at that time. What was earlier overt, has become covert.
It is rather tedious to have to recall again the long list of accusations that have been leveled against Jews by anti-Semites. But one of the most pervasive since the emergence of racial anti-Semitism and its use as a political weapon by the right in the last quarter of the nineteenth century has been that Jews collectively are engaged in a conspiracy to dominate the world. From at least the time of the publication of the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elder of Zion, one strand of this accusation has been that Marxism and Bolshevism were Jewish inventions and part of the plan for world domination. In the earlier, pre-Holocaust days, it could be stated quite boldly. Jews, according to the anti-Semites, knew no loyalty to the countries in which they resided; they were eternal foreigners, outsiders without national pride. Those who were socialists or communists “hated” their countries and worked actively against the “national interest.” Now, it depends on circumlocution. The word “Jew” may never appear. But the attributes accorded by anti-Semites to the Jews remain. Thus, a particular set of characteristics are highly likely to add up to the word “Jew”: rootless cosmopolitan; lack of patriotism; left wing intellectual; internationalist; not genuinely British.
In the United States, during the years of McCarthyite hysteria, those targeted in the anti-communist witch hunts were labeled “un-American”. Left-wing and liberal Jews were among the most prominent of the victims. The term “un-American” had sinister echoes of the Nazis’ campaign in the 1930s against what they described as the “un-German spirit” inspired, they claimed, by “Judeo-Bolshevism.” The Daily Mail has come close to resurrecting slurs such as this in it assertion that Ralph Miliband “hated Britain.” What might it mean to be “un-American” (or “anti-American”), “un-German”, or to “hate Britain”? Those who deal in such slurs take it for granted that everyone understands what they mean. In the Nazis’ case, to be “un-German” meant to reject the Nazi version of German race and nationhood. For HUAC, “un-Americans” were those who did not accept the need for loyalty to a Cold War, anti-communist ideology as proof of one’s patriotism.
For the Daily Mail and its defenders, those who claim that British society is divided along class lines and scarred by deep social inequality; those who may reject the institution of monarchy and an unelected House of Lords as representatives of entrenched privilege; those who work to achieve the fullest democratization of British society and an end to such inequalities and unelected power and privileges – are people who “hate Britain.” If such people can be treated, in some sense, as “foreigners”, so much the better. In Miliband’s case, does anti-Semitism come into this? Almost certainly it does.
Ralph Miliband came to Britain at the age of sixteen as a Jewish refugee from Belgium in 1940. During the last years of the war he served in the Royal Navy. He spent most of his working life as an academic at the London School of Economics and later at the University of Leeds where he was Professor of Politics, and at Brandeis. Amongst his many books and articles, perhaps the best know is Parliamentary Socialism, written in 1961. It is a thoroughgoing Marxist critique of the politics and practice of the Labour party in and out of government. Its stance is one with which his sons, David and Ed must profoundly disagree. Ralph Miliband was, needless to say, an atheist. He was a consistent critic of Zionism who nevertheless embraced his Jewish identity without hesitation. Despite the angry rebuttal by the Daily Mail of the charge that their attack on Miliband has an undertone of anti-Semitism, the rebuttal is unconvincing. In the course of the controversy that followed the original article, another piece appeared in the paper, linking Ralph Miliband to two other British left wing academics – Harold J Laski and Eric J Hobsbawm. Laski, who had taught at the School for many years, was Miliband’s mentor at the LSE. Hobsbawm, whose academic career and political views were similar to Miliband’s, was a friend. Both Laski and Hobsbawm, like Miliband were hate figures for many on the political right in Britain. All three were Jewish. The Mail could easily have chosen any number of Ralph Miliband’s political associates, most of whom were not Jewish. It chose not to. By linking him to these two it suggested an association of dubious elements, foreign or cosmopolitan, who were not authentically British. To those who choose to embrace such stereotypes, foreign born Marxists, particularly if they held positions where they could influence the minds of gullible students, can easily be described as “haters of Britain.”
Is it an accident, or pure coincidence, that this comes so close to the old, anti-Semitic stereotype of the “Jewish conspiracy”? Hardly. But the real target is not the father, but the son. If some of this very unpleasant mud can be made to stick on Ed Miliband, it is hoped that it will help to ensure that he never becomes Prime Minister. And, God forbid! -there’s no hint of anti-Semitism in this.