Comment: Cameron should be furious with the Daily Mail

By Phil Scullion 

As the news agenda moves on from the Daily Mail's misjudged attack on Ed Miliband's father, David Cameron may want to take a wistful look over his shoulder.

Put simply, it shouldn't have been this way. Ralph Miliband was the ace in the hole, the perfect scaremongering freebie for the right wing press.

It is very simplistic logic to say that Ed Miliband is irrevocably linked to his father's legacy and that this is a weakness. Clearly, the youngest Miliband is not his father.

"My late father, as some of you know, wouldn’t agree with many of the things I stand for," he told the Labour party conference.

"He would’ve loved the idea of 'Red Ed.' But he would have been a little bit disappointed that it isn't true."

However, the fact that Ed Miliband felt the need to drive this point home is a clear sign that he and his team are aware of the danger presented.

The right-wing press are undoubtedly going to spend the next year and a half painting him as a crazed socialist. Whether he is a socialist or not is irrelevant.

It's a tried and tested method of knocking down a Labour leader. Just ask Neil Kinnock, who blamed the newspapers for his defeat in the 1992 election. The public are still uncomfortable about socialism, which is why Tony Blair created New Labour and Ed Miliband would prefer to be branded a "responsible capitalist".

It is this unease which should have made Ed Miliband's father Ralph, a Marxist intellectual and a fierce opponent of a number of British institutions, so useful to the right.

When picking a party to vote for many people will do so on the basis of a gut feeling about an individual.

Ed Miliband's background and upbringing is a huge component of the individual who would like to lead the country, so it is only natural that people will judge him for it.

Up until last week part of that analysis might have included a sense of apprehension about his father's political leanings and how they may have influenced the man put before the electorate.

Ed Miliband said himself that it is "perfectly legitimate" for newspapers to discuss his father's political views.

And Lord Prescott, former deputy prime minister, admitted to Channel 4 News that Ralph Miliband was certainly no supporter of parliamentary democracy.

"I knew Ralph Miliband. He didn't like parliament, he didn't like social democracy," he said.

Add to this the fact that Ed Miliband has positioned Labour as far left as the party has been since Kinnock's reign in the early 1990s and the Daily Telegraph opinion pieces begin to write themselves.

In his recent conference speech he pledged to freeze energy prices and start a house building boom, drawing wild cheers from activists. It isn't quite Das Kapital, but it's about as left wing as a 21st century Marxist can expect.

But thanks to the Daily Mail's crass headline about Ralph Miliband, "the man who hated Britain" as they so ineloquently put it, the game is up and part of the right's advantage ceded.

Ask the public what they think of Ralph Miliband and they'll tell you he fought in the Second World War. In a YouGov poll 72% said the Daily Mail's description of the Marxist academic was unacceptable and just 17% thought it was reasonable. Even 57% of Mail readers think that the paper should apologise.

The battle over the influence of Ralph Miliband's politics on his son has been lost in the furore.

Instead the debate has been dominated by Ed Miliband's human side, his desire to protect the legacy of his father, who he quite justifiably claims has been smeared by the Daily Mail.

From left-wing journalist Mehdi Hasan's passionate tirade against the Daily Mail on the BBC's Question Time to further revelations about the Daily Mail sending a reporter to Ed Miliband's uncle's memorial, these were very base human feelings about the importance of looking out for your family.

It is rare that a politician gets an opportunity to connect with voters on this kind of emotional level, so it should be no surprise Ed Miliband grasped the chance with a heartfelt right of reply article and a televised interview.

But a more cautious headline from the Daily Mail, a more sensitive and academically rigorous analysis and it could all have been so different.

Right-wing newspaper criticism of Ralph Miliband and his influence on the political leanings of Ed Miliband should have been electoral gold for David Cameron.

It should have strengthened the right's narrative that the Labour party are dangerously socialist in outlook under Ed Miliband. Now a small piece of that narrative has been lost.

Ralph Miliband will be seen by the public as the man falsely accused of hating Britain, someone who fought in the war and who was not around to defend himself when the Mail Online decided to upload a picture of his grave along with a pun.

Any negative effect Ralph Miliband's politics could have had on his son's election campaign have surely been neutralised, not least because the public will now be bored of hearing about him.

And for losing him that tactical advantage before the 2015 election campaign has even begun, David Cameron has every right to be absolutely furious with the Daily Mail.

Phil Scullion is editor of and political analyst at the London Economic.

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