Friday, 4 October 2013

The newspaper that really hates Britain

I agree with Nick Clegg. The Daily Mail hates Britain. Speaking yesterday morning on his LBC radio phone-in, he said: "They don't like working mothers, they don't like the BBC, they don't like members of the royal family, they don't like teachers, they don't like the English football team."

I'd go further: the Daily Mail hates Britain because it hates what Britain has become, and yearns, achingly, for what it wrongly imagines the country once was. It hates a Britain where gay people can marry each other, where difference is celebrated, and where no one knows their place any more.

That's one reason why, last weekend, it launched its extraordinary, dishonest, and indecent attack on Ed Miliband's late father. It can't stand the idea that the son of a Marxist intellectual -- oh yes, and a foreigner -- might one day be prime minister. Because the Mail also hates Marxists, it also hates intellectuals, and it's not at all keen on foreigners, especially those who ask difficult questions.

I also agree with Ed Miliband. The Mail's attack on his father was bad enough, but the decision of its sister paper, the Mail on Sunday, to send a reporter on Wednesday to gatecrash a private family memorial service crossed "a line of common decency". (The MoS's editor and proprietor have both since apologised unreservedly, and two of the paper's journalists have been suspended.)

Who cares what the Daily Mail thinks and does? Just about the entire political leadership of Britain, that's who -- because they believe that the paper somehow has a mystical insight into the deepest thoughts of British voters, that it taps into the veins of the national pysche, and that to ignore it is to ignore the instincts of the British people.

The Mail is phenomenally good at hating. It's also pretty good at getting things wrong, and appallingly bad at apologising when it does so. It prizes prejudice and disdains reason. It fears the future and worships the past.

In 1924, four days before a general election, it published the so-called Zinoviev letter, which purported to be an instruction from a Soviet Communist party apparatchik to "sympathetic forces" in the British Labour party. That letter was later shown to have been a forgery.

In 1977, it published another letter, this time purportedly written by the chairman of the National Enterprise Board, to the chief executive of the State-owned motor manufacturer British Leyland. It was meant to show that the Labour government had approved a plan for Leyland to pay bribes for overseas contracts; the Mail said it was exposing "the hypocritical face of socialism". That letter, too, was a forgery.

The Mail, it seems, will stop at nothing to prevent a Labour government coming to power. Not 90 years ago, not 35 years ago, not now.

The Mail sells papers by selling fear. Will eating give you cancer? Will Labour take all your money away? Criminals are everywhere. (There's even a website where you can automatically generate your own Mail-type headlines: "Have teachers made your pets obese?" "Have yobs impregnated Britain's swans?" "Could the loony left make the middle class impotent?")

But this week, it went over the top. It attacked Ed Miliband's father as "The man who hated Britain" and justified the assault by claiming: "What is so disturbing is that Miliband Jnr, with his plans for state seizures of builders’ land and fixing prices by government diktat, appears to have absorbed so many of his father’s ideas." In other words, vote Labour and elect the son of a Marxist who wants to turn Britain into a Stalinist hellhole.

Which is, of course, arrant, pernicious, and utterly absurd nonsense. Quite apart from the fact that Ed Miliband has said repeatedly that he does not share his late father's political views, his proposal for what the Mail calls the "state seizure of builders' land" -- which led its columnist Quentin Letts to liken Mr Miliband to Robert Mugabe -- exactly matches what that notorious revolutionary Marxist Boris Johnson proposed in his blueprint for London earlier this year. (Thank you, Private Eye, for pointing it out.)

The former Thatcherite Cabinet minister John Moore, who was taught by Ralph Miliband at the London School of Economics and who is no friend of the Labour party, said: "It beggars belief that the Daily Mail can accuse him of lacking patriotism. I never heard him ever say one word which was negative about Britain … The Daily Mail is telling lies about a good man who I knew."

Margaret Thatcher's biographer, Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph: "The Mail managed to offend against taste and decency on multiple counts – attacking a man for his deceased father's views, misrepresenting those views, attacking a Jew, attacking a refugee from Hitler."

And the former Conservative deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine: "This is carrying politics to an extent that is just demeaning …"

It was worse than that: it was plain, outright wrong. Yes, Ralph Miliband was a Marxist, but he was no apologist for Stalinist tyranny. Here's what the Daily Telegraph, no less, said in its obituary in 1994 (which it helpfully, and tellingly, republished this week): "Though committed to socialism, he never hesitated to criticise its distortion by Stalin and other dictators."

Perhaps I sound as if this is all a bit personal. Well, it is. Because my parents, like Ed Miliband's, came to Britain as refugees from the Nazis. My parents, like his father, joined the British armed forces during the Second World War to help defeat the Nazis; they worked in a military intelligence unit so secret that its contribution to the war effort has only recently been publicly disclosed. My parents, like his, never failed to acknowledge the debt they owed this country -- and like his, I imagine, never, ever read the Daily Mail.

The Mail sells more than 1.8 million copies a day, making it the second most popular daily paper in the UK after the Sun. It has one of the loudest voices in what I still think of as Fleet Street, and its editor, Paul Dacre, who has been at the helm for more than 20 years, is regarded as one of the most powerful media figures in the land. He is also the current chairman of the Press Complaints Commission's Editors' Code of Practice Committee, which just goes to prove that satire is alive and well.

The former Blair spin-doctor Alastair Campbell calls him "a bully and a coward, and like most cowards … a hypocrite as well."  I've tried hard not to make this personal, just as I have (almost) resisted the temptation to refer back to the well-established admiration for Adolf Hitler of the paper's current owner's great-grandfather.

Others will not be so forbearing -- and I won't blame them for a moment.


Teresa Guerreiro said...

This is an excellent piece and I wouldn't disagree with a single word. However, it perhaps lacks the recognition that the Mail does indeed represent the beliefs and prejudices of a huge slice of British society, one which no politician would dare really take on. Those of us who live in wonderful, mixed, promiscuous London sometimes forget it. This foreigner recently took a trip with 34 Brits, all from the provinces, and to the last man and woman Daily Mail readers. In the depths of Bavaria some would go out of their way to find a copy of the Mail even if it was two or three days old. An interesting experience, dare I say, for all or us... I have an acquaintance (even perhaps friend) who once stated with great feeling about Ed Miliband: "His father came to this country because of our freedoms and now he wants to take all those freedoms away." Most of these people will believe what the Mail said and in fact cheer what they see as their courage in saying it. This is deeply depressing, but I believe it to be true. How you deal with it, I don't know.

JD said...

Well argued and VERY restrained. You remain the gentleman I listened to so often on BBC World Service.
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Teresa has a point, the Mail does reflect the viiews of a silent segment of society, silent because they're as devoid of a spine as the Mail's editor when it comes to putting their hand up for their loathsome, hateful views. They hate in private and leave it to the Mail to articulate their hate in public.
I don''t think that should divert us from our contempt for their behaviour or their values. The only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them. This has ade the Mail look smaller in just the same way because people have finally stood up to it.
As someone said on Steve Hewlitt's R4 show - we don't have a free press, we have a proprietorial press. I'm all for the former. I could live without the latter.
Great piece Mr Lustig.

Alec Leggat said...

(The Daily Mail) "also hates intellectuals" I found this statement quite chilling. Not because I consider myself an intellectual but because it brought to mind Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime.

Jan F said...

~ I'm saddened that no one has dared criticise the amount of hatred and venom being sloshed around over this issue (The Daily Mail article). Everyone is rushing about wanting to hate. Blair's mouthpiece (Campbell) is attempting to go for Sainthood when he and Blair's lies over the WMD issue started a war that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and destabilised the middle east forever. That alone puts this row over Milliband's dad's patriotism into perspective. Get a life, the lot of you. Oh .. I forgot to mention the murder of Doctor David Kelly .. 'Pot' and 'kettle' spring to mind here ..

Anonymous said...

Millions of Brits dislike Labour Party, Campbell and Miliband, and now detest and fear them for PR campaign to influence Privy Council decision on [post-Leveson] regime affecting press freedom to favour Miliband's preferred outcome.

francoise_hardy said...

Jan F, you are Mr. Irrelevant and I claim my five pounds!

Anonymous said...

I too got a specific chill at the line 'The Daily Mail' hates intellectuals'. Here in Estonia and the other Baltic republics, the first thing Stalin's bully-boys did when they took power, was round up and shoot all the intellectuals - teachers, writers, local political leaders, doctors, anyone who might challenge their truly evil intentions. Once again, the Daily Mail, as earlier with the Nazi's, has aligned itself with the forces of blind oppression. They are the true haters of everything good that Britain stands for - then and now.

dceilar said...

Very restrained piece Robin. At the end of your article you write: "Others will not be so forbearing -- and I won't blame them for a moment". So you won't mind if I do!

The Daily Mail's campaign against Ralph Miliband being a hater of Britain stems, not from his Marxism, but the fact he was a Jewish refugee. How can a grandson of Harold Harmsworth support the idea that someone else's father, a Jewish refugee and British WW2 veteran, 'hated Britain'? There is a vile undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the Mail's campaign of hate.

BTW, the Mail Online also is riddled with paedophilia. You only need to search for a child star on their hate site to be shown these children wearing risqué clothes with the sub-heading of 'oh doesn't she look grown-up'! The child star of the film Kick-Ass is a case in point. It criticises the film for sexualising its child-star whilst showing photos of her 'looking grown-up'. All this Daily Mail hypocrisy is exposed in Private Eye on a regular basis.

Adam Sheldon said...

A friend linked to this posting in her own critique of the Mail's conduct (which reaches much the same conclusions as you). It is a pleasure to find in your written observations exactly the gracefully-phrased intelligence and insight we so used to enjoy during your stewardship of "The World Tonight". Thank you for expressing so well what many of us feel: that the Daily Mail is a disgrace to the useful and occasionally admirable art of journalism.

Unknown said...

While Teresa is correct that the Mail does represent a signficant slice of opinion in Britain, it also represents a viewpoint that is on the losing side of British history - and one that is fading in power. A lot of its anger appears to emanate from failing to keep Britain in some kind of John Major-ish back to basics utopia with ubiquitous cricket and ample warm beer. The Mail has clearly overeached itself on this occasion, and for all the complaining about its appalling treatment of Ed and his late father, the reaction is also telling and hopeful. The Mail's constituency don't run or represent the UK today. It rails against a Britan to which it no longer belongs, and the paper's outrage is a product of its weakness rather than strength.

Charlotte R said...

Well written and I agree with all of the above. I have to confess I often look at the DM because although it has odious views (and it is always good to read and unpick rather than just have your views confirmed), it is also a well laid out, accessible newspaper. We need something similar on the left with a good mix of news, comment and magazine type coverage. The Guardian is great but is just too worthy and deep at times and is never going to reach nearly 2m people

John G said...

Charlotte R., great idea. Be the change you want to see in the world (and rope in some more like-minded folk to help as you need).

Tim Arnold said...

Well said, Robin. Personally, I think you should have made more of the appeasement stuff from the 1930s. But it wasn't just your parents working in military intelligence which helped us win the war. Many of the people behind Project Manhattan were Jewish emigres who stopped off here en route to Los Alamos. Could you imagine what Hitler could have done with the V2 and the Bomb?

A. Williamson said...

The Daily Mail's criticism of Ralph Miliband was completely over the top but your criticism of the Daily Mail is also completely over the top.

Many of your criticisms of the Mail are as unjustified as the Mail's of Ralph Miliband, or more so.

You say that the Mail can't stand the idea that the son of a foreigner might one day be prime minister. What rubbish. The Mail supported Michael Howard, the son of Jewish immigrants, to be PM in 2005.

The Mail hates intellectuals. What justification have you got for that remark?

Many of the criticisms of the Mail made by others, which you quote to support your view, are from pretty dubious sources.

You quote Michael Heseltine. Well so what? Last week Heseltine also said that UKIP is a racist party. That comment was plain, outright wrong.

You and Charles Moore have referred to the fact that the Milibands are Jews. Well, so what? To imply that criticising Ralph Miliband is unacceptable because he is Jewish is absurd.

Alastair Campbell calls Paul Dacre "a bully and a coward, and like most cowards … a hypocrite as well." Well, Alistair Campbell is a bully and a hypocrite and possibly a coward as well.