The row between the Daily Mail and the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, is a telling example of the nastiness of innuendo, the damning of people by association with deliberately caricatured ideas, the grievous sin of claiming the high moral ground by appealing to the lowest moral common denominator. When a newspaper uses terms such as 'hated Britain' and 'legacy of evil' and 'poisonous creed' as ways of describing an academic Marxist who was a Jewish refugee from Belgium, fleeing to escape from the consequences of National Socialism's military aggression, who served in the Royal Navy, and whose contribution to the cultural, intellectual and social life of our country has been adversarial rather than confirmatory, then I smell a rat, and perhaps a bloated disease ridden one at that.
That a man who fled Nazism as a terrified teenager, having experienced German right-wing exteremism in its most destructive and evil manifestations, and known at first hand an ideology with a powerful capacity to reconfigure morals and social engineering to suit its own evil ends, that such a man should be damned, and his children attacked for being his children, makes me wonder which of the descriptors of Ralph Miliband has so infuriated the Daily Mail. Was it Belgian, Jewish, Marxist, Socialist, or academic? The paper claims it is the word Marxist they wanted to highlight, and they did so with all the lethal ambiguity loaded into such a word by a paper which stands at the ideologically opposite pole. Was it Socialist, a word clearly so repulsive, it was used as a sick joke with a photo of Ralph Miliband's grave, headed 'Grave Socialist'. (The belated admission it was an 'error of judgement' makes it sound as if the wrong font was used in the insult). I don't think it was the word Belgian that triggered this landslide of insinuation and hermeneutic malpractice. That he was an academic, who lived in an environment of contested and debated ideas, and whose role in a democarcy is precisely to engage with ideas critically and with intellectual integrity, cannot surely have so offended a newspaper which claims it is defending the integrity of Britain's institutions by allegedly exposing someone who 'hated Britain'. Was it the word Jewish, something Ed Miliband himself mentioned in two consecutive Party Conference speeches, a fact noted in the daily Mail's defence of the original article, and noted with editorial precision linked to a rather wooden allusion to 'the jealous God' (note the negative pejorative) of Deuteronomy (note the cherished words of the Torah).
My problem in deciding which of those words launched the article - Belgian, Jewish, Marxist, academic - is that whatever the motives any journalist claims, whatever the public interest a paper says it is defending, they write in the murky unhygienic waters of diverse prejudices and dirty politics. The ambiguities of words that have cultural resonances far deeper than their surface dictionary meanings, the suggestiveness of what is said and what is omitted, the bias and blindness of a paper's ideology, right or left, the toxins thrown up by social insecurity, economic panic, and the survival instincts of a culture in moral and existential disarray, - these require of responsible interpreters an hermeneutic of suspicion. No I don't know with certainty what underlies such an attack on a senior politician's father; but neither will I exclude the possibility there are underying agendas that it may be too dangerous to state openly.
One further thought. There is something intellectually naive about an article that quotes one sentence against the English and their nationalism as proof of lifelong hatred of the country where he found safety, when that sentence was extracted without context from the diary of a 17 year old refugee from Nazi Europe still trying to find a standpoint from which to view his broken terrifying world. Ralph Miliband's ideas and political views, and his view of the world and of Marxism in particular, could hardly be further from my own; likewise the policies and ideas of his son hardly commend themselves to me as the most ethically sound, economically feasible or politically promising. But they should be judged on their merits, not caricatured as Marxist bogey men resurrected to sinister purpose. History is not a predictable catena of causal connections, whatever a tabloid newspaper would like us to believe.