Thursday, October 03, 2013

History in the Mail

THE Tory Daily Mail has worked wonders, projecting Labour leader Ed Miliband into the limelight in the week of the Tory party conference, lending him not just sympathy but respect, and raising fighting morale both within and beyond the ranks of the Labour Party. None of this was intentional of course, but though it might have served temporarily to divert attention from some of the nasty stuff the Tories are preparing, it has been a bonus to the labour movement on top of Labour's own conference and the massive TUC-backed demonstration for the NHS and against austerity which greeted the Tories on their arrival in Manchester at the weekend.

The Mail has it in for Miliband, it's said, because he dared come out for press regulation after the results of the Leveson inquiry. How dare any elected leader try to interfere with the power of billionaire press barons to  do and say what they like in their idea of "democracy"?  But that's not all.

Miliband's promise to freeze fuel prices, and Labour conference calls to reverse privatisation of the Royal Mail and railways are hardly revolutionary, but along with the emotive issue of healthcare they could help persuade working class voters that Labour is back on their side, and they also appeal to middle class people long disillusioned with privatised utilities and services. The Mail and the Daily Express both ran stories accusing Miliband of wiping millions off share prices, and the Express even carried an "Exclusive" predicting that this would cause power cuts and blackouts in 2015.

But then realising perhaps that readers might be more worried about the prices on their bills than of shares, and fear a freeze on homes this Winter rather than one on prices, the Mail must have decided to go for a "Red" scare instead and the kind of patriotism that is the last refuge of scoundrels.

How to present mild-spoken Miliband, previously depicted as an ineffectual Mr.Bean-like character, as some dangerous fiery red revolutionary inciting class war? The job was entrusted to a Mail hack called Geoffrey Levy, more often turning out little stories about the royals. He seems to have turned to a book about Ed and Dave Miliband's father Ralph, , the Marxist academic, who was brought to this country as a refugee from Nazism, and gleaning from it a remark the teenage Ralph Miliband made in his diary about nationalist Englishmen, produced an article headlined "A Man Who Hated Britain". 

To be fair the article did mention that Ralph Miliband went on to serve in the Royal Navy - he was on a destroyer during the Normandy landings. But understandably it forgot to mention that the Mail's pre-war hero Sir Oswald Mosley had meanwhile served his sentence under Defence Regulation 18B, or to acknowledge that if papers like the Daily Mail, hostile then as now to asylum seekers had  their way, people like the ungrateful Milibands would never have been allowed into this country.

 For a period in the 1930s the Mail ran articles such as that by Tory MP Sir Thomas More headed "The Blackshirts Have What Conservatives Need",(April 25, 1934) and "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!" by the newspaper's proprietor, Viscount Rothermere. (July 8,1934). The paper's enthusiasm for Mosley later cooled, whether because of his declining fortunes or their decreasing advertising revenue, But Lord Rothermere (below, left) had a more important hero figure on the Continent.

As he had written in 1933:

" I urge all British young men and women to study closely the progress of the Nazi regime in Germany. They must not be misled by the misrepresentations of its opponents. The most spiteful detracters of the Nazis are to be found in precisely the same sections of the British public and press as are most vehement in their praises of the Soviet regime in Russia. They have started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call "Nazi atrocities" which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence such as are inevitable among a nation half as big again as ours, but which have been generalized, multiplied and exaggerated to give the impression that Nazi rule is a bloodthirsty tyranny."
Rothermere fully understood one special feature of Nazi policy. As he explained:

 "The German nation, moreover, was rapidly falling under the control of its alien elements. In the last days of the pre-Hitler regime there were 20 times as many Jewish Government officials in Germany as had existed before the war. Israelites of international attachments were insinuating themselves into key positions in the German administrative machine. Three German Ministries only had direct relations with the Press, but in each case the official responsible for conveying news and interpreting policy to the public was a Jew. It is from such abuses that Hitler has freed Germany."

Hitler responded with a letter appreciating Lord Rothermere's support, and the friendship continued as the Nazis went on to extend the benefits of their rule and methods to neighbouring countries. In a message to Hitler congratulating him on the annexation of Czachoslovakia, Rothermere urged the Fuhrer to carry on further:

Some people have complained that it's wrong to judge a newspaper by bringing up "an article written eighty years ago", but apparently it is OK to attack the leader of the Labour Party on the basis of what his father confided to his diary when he was 16 years old. 

The Mail's normally outspoken editor Paul Dacre has been a bit quiet so far, or maybe he is otherwise engaged.  His father Peter Dacre performed outstanding service during the War, covering the West End for Express newspapers about the time Ralph Miliband was in the Navy. Doesn't sound like a reserved occupation, but Express owner Lord Beaverbrook was in the government. 

The present day owner of the Mail and 4th Viscount Rothermere loves Britain to the tune of a £40m neo-Palladian stately home in 220 acres of grounds in Wiltshire, where he spends time with his family, plus a flat in London’s Eaton Square, handy for the Mail's Kensington offices or his seat in the House of Lords, but he is no narrow-minded patriot, also owning a chateau in the Dordogne. This may explain how he manages to claim foreign domicile and therefore exemption from tax on income, including dividends from the Daily Mail and General Trust plc, that he keeps offshore. Just because you love this country and its venerable institutions does not mean you must contribute to their upkeep. Leave that to the mugs on PAYE.

Keeping up the French connection, the Mail has given support to a more recent fascist than the two we've named.
And to round things off, one man who has written in praise of the attack on the Milibands is the British National Party's Nick Griffin, fresh back from telling his own party conference about  his "peace mission" to Syria.

Oddly enough, nasty Nick takes the accusation back to Miliband's grandfather Samuel, and this is not the first time one of the Miliband brothers has been attacked this way. In 2007 one of Putin's aide's suggested then incoming Foreign Secretary David Miliband had inherited an anti-Russian gene from his Polish-born grandfather, whom he alleged belonged to an "organisation commanded by Trotsky" -presumably he meant the Red Army!  The Mail back then had no difficulty detecting a whiff of antisemitism about this targeting.

I've never met either of the Miliband brothers, though I wrote to David Miliband on behalf of the Jewish Socialists' Group complaining about the denial of visas to a Palestinian under-19 football team who had been invited to train and play a couple of friendlies in this country. I don't know what the Foreign Secretary thought about my arguments for welcoming such contacts, as he passed the matter on to some Foreign and Commonwealth Office civil servant who stuck to the technicalities of applying for and issuing visas. Well, Miliband was new to the job, and perhaps he did not want to discuss an issue that would not help his position in government.

I was introduced to the Milibands' mother, Ralph Miliband's widow Marion some years ago, oddly enough at a meeting about the Middle East, in Brussels. (Perhaps she would have made a better Foreign Secretary than her son David). She was asking me whether people still read Ralph Miliband's books. It occurred to me afterwards that contrary to Jewish mother stereotypes she had not said anything about her sons, who were already prominent in the Labour Party.

The joke used to be that Ralph Miliband had written books arguing that socialism was nothing to with parliament and the Labour Party, and his two sons had loyally set out to prove the old man right. I see Len McCluskey has used that gag already.

I missed the chance to meet Ralph back in 1982, when he attended a meeting in County Hall to protest the war in Lebanon, bringing with him the Belgian Jewish scholar Marcel Liebman (author of Leninism Under Lenin). 

Friends who studied under Ralph Miliband at Leeds speak of his "warmth", and "inspiration", saying he was fair and encouraging even when you disagreed with him.  More surprisingly, even a former Thatcher aide is disgusted with the Daily Mail and praises Ralph's integrity:

But then, let's face it, this is not really just a row about the Milibands, father and sons, nor the leadership of the Labour Party.  When even Tories like Cameron and Michael Hesseltine are uneasy about what the Mail has done, we may sense it has gone too far, but it has not strayed far from the direction it has always gone.  

Defending its claim that Ralph Miliband "hated Britain", the Mail now says, "... what is blindingly clear from everything he wrote throughout his life is that he had nothing but hatred for the values, traditions and institutions — including our great schools, the Church, the Army and even the Sunday papers — that made Britain the safe and free nation in which he and his family flourished."

With the Tory party holding its conference yards from where the Peterloo massacre took place, we might remember with what struggles and sacrifice such freedoms and rights as we still enjoy were really won, and note the British traditions and institutions which are not part of the Daily Mail list, such as our trade unions, our right to protest, our co-operatives and the NHS, and yes, the socialism developed here by Owen and William Morris, and the immigrants Fred Engels and Karl Marx. In other words, the Britain that the Mail hates!

Because there are two different, opposed Britains, or as another immigrant's son recognised, in a phrase recently adopted but seemingly misunderstood, Two Nations. Or two classes, to be correct.

Many people probably know that it was the Daily Mail which used the so-called Zinoviev Letter to attack Labour, referring to "instructions" given the Socialists by their supposed "Masters" in Moscow. We might also point out that the slogan "For King and Country" which ran at the masthead of the Mail for many years was originally the headline for an editorial attacking the miners and trade unions in 1926. That editorial did not appear because the Mail's printworkers back then refused to print it, and that was how they joined the General Strike.

Conditions have changed, but the sides are the same. Once again our enemies want to denounce opponents as traitors and outlaws, as they wrap their greed for profit in the flag.

Meanwhile, Marion Miliband may like to know that it's an ill wind that blows no good, thanks to whoever took this pic:

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