Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Geoffrey Levy in the Daily Mail has attacked Ralph Miliband, father of the Labour leader Ed Miliband, as ‘The man who hated Britain’. An editorial said Ralph Miliband’s legacy was “evil” and that they “won’t apologise”. These claims are primarily based upon a single diary entry of a 17-year-old Ralph, and the fact that the elder Miliband was a Marxist. Unsurprisingly, Ed Miliband demanded the right to reply, highlighted his father’s naval service, and wrote:
Britain was a source of hope and comfort for him, not hatred. Having been born in Belgium he didn’t start from a belief in the inferiority of other countries, but he loved Britain for the security it offered his family and the gentle decency of our nation.
Ed Miliband also said: “I want to make capitalism work for working people, not destroy it.” According to Michael Crick, the elder Miliband “was not a Marxist in the Marxist-Leninist sense” and “[n]or did he believe in the violent overthrow of capitalism”.
Rather than writing an essay on the merits and demerits of Ed Miliband’s policies, the Daily Mail has written two articles about the views of his father. This is a disgusting and slanderous substitute for real politics. Negative political campaigning by newspapers is not new. In the American Presidential election of 1800, one newspaper warned that, with Thomas Jefferson as President:
Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.
Most of political debate currently resides in a gutter, but these Daily Mail articles reveal another rusted gutter, gargling and stammering away beneath the previous one. The reasons for this state of political debate are elementary: bombast and mud-slinging are easy whilst political analysis is difficult. It is quite effortless for an activist to parrot their parental prejudices, whine about how much they “hate the Tory scum”, and drown any discussion in fallacies, mischaracterisations, historical ignorance, exaggerations and insults.
Instead of scientific inquiry and a calm examination of a policy’s effects; columnists, politicians and activists are embroiled in a tiresome scuffle to demonstrate their own moral fortitude and great intentions. Instead of seeking greater understanding of economic and social issues in a complex world, news organisations lean towards simplification, sensationalism and political skirmishes.
Political parties partake in this vulgarisation too: simple slogans are endlessly repeated. Over the course of this coalition government, how many times have Labour spokespeople used the phrases “ideological” and “out of touch” to refer to the Conservatives? How many times have Conservative ministers and MPs claimed they are “cleaning up the mess Labour made”?
After the celebrations of Margaret Thatcher’s death, the repeated and irrelevant attacks on Prime Minister David Cameron’s background, the hysterical columns featured in the Independent, Guardian, Sun, Mirror and Mail, the current state of British politics is deleterious. Ralph Miliband was an intellectual, political debate – both old and contemporary – is not.