Bryony Clark reveals why a Tory MP is coming to the aid of Ed Miliband.
Conservative backbencher Zac Goldsmith has waded into the furore surrounding the Daily Mail’s recent hostile coverage of Ed Miliband’s late father, Ralph Miliband, launching a scathing critique on the newspaper for its founder’s support of the “Nazi cause.”
Speaking at the Huffington Post UK’s fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, MP Zach Goldsmith said Miliband had a “reason to react” to the Mail’s “appalling article” on Saturday, headlined ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’. The MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston also observed it was ‘odd for a newspaper to judge a man on the basis of the history of his family when that newspaper is owned by a family that did more to pursue the Nazi cause pre-war than any other [publication]’.
Referencing Harold Harmsworth, the first Viscount Rothermere and proprietor of the Mail, who was an outspoken Nazi sympathiser in the run-up to the Second World War, Goldsmith remarked:
“Goebbels himself wrote endless documents about Rothermere, describing him as being a strong ally and strongly against the Jews. Those are the words he used. ‘Strongly against the Jews’. Has Rothermere apologised? Have we ever had an apology from the Mail, or the Mail group, in relation to their history?”
The Mail had provoked outrage on Saturday with a blistering attack on the deceased Marxist academic, written by columnist Geoffrey Levy. Levy claimed that Ralph Miliband, a Jewish refugee who served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, hated Britain and purveyed a ‘poisonous creed’ designed to destroy British institutions. The Labour leader responded with fury to what he described as an unjustified ‘character assassination’ of his father and demanded the right to reply. The Daily Mail agreed to publish Miliband’s own riposte to the attack on Tuesday, but also republished the original offending article along with an editorial headlined, ‘Ed Miliband, an evil legacy and why we won’t apologise’.
Levy claimed that Ralph Miliband, a Jewish refugee who served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, hated Britain and purveyed a ‘poisonous creed’ designed to destroy British institutions.
Goldsmith is by no means the first person to raise the issue of the Mail’s past associations with fascism and Nazism in response to Levy’s article. The viewpoint has already been reverberating around Twitter and the Bradford West MP George Galloway described the article as a ‘despicable smear’ from a newspaper ‘which supported fascism and ran a front page splash in support of British Nazis titled ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!”
Tariq Ali, a long-time friend of Ralph Miliband, who worked and campaigned alongside the academic from the 1970s until his death, has argued: “Ralph’s position was, of course, much, much, better than the Daily Mail, which was a pro-fascist paper until the war broke out – so to get lessons from the Daily Mail on this is quite extraordinary.”
However, Goldsmith’s comment is the most outspoken condemnation of the Mail so far from a Conservative Party figure. Speaking on the Today programme on Tuesday morning, David Cameron said he understood Miliband’s anger about his father but withheld from criticising the Mail, saying he had not read the original piece. In an interview with the BBC News Channel, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt highlighted Ralph Miliband’s opposition to free markets and also refused to condemn the Mail for its editorial judgement. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, on the other hand has already tweeted his support for the Labour leader: “I support Ed Miliband defending his dad. Politics should be about playing the ball, not the man, certainly not the man’s family.”
In response to fierce criticism, the Daily Mail issued a statement defending its stance: “While we respect Mr Miliband’s right to defend his father … it is worth stressing that Ralph Miliband wasn’t an ordinary private individual but a prominent academic and author who devoted his life to promoting a Marxist dogma which caused so much misery in the world”.
The current Viscount Rothermere, Jonathan Harmsworth, is the chairman of DMGT, the publisher of the Daily Mail. With regards to the Nazi sympathies harboured by the Mail’s proprietor Harold Harmsworth, Goldsmith concluded: “Maybe they’ll say it doesn’t matter, don’t judge a paper or current person on the back of their history. In which case, leave the guy alone.”
Bryony is a recent literature graduate and news junkie who has previously written for the Cambridge Student, the New Political Centre and the Independent.