On Saturday, the Daily Mail published one of the most horrendous example of the dark political arts I have ever come across. Forget Damian McBride, to denigrate (yes Geoffrey – to traduce even) the life of a dead man for political advantage is about as low as it is possible to stoop.
I have written previously about the positive aspects of the Daily Mail. The reasons I have enjoyed reading it in the past and the reasons other do too. The people I know who read the Daily Mail are good people. Conservative (sometimes with a small c, sometimes with a large one) they are people who could best be described as encapsulating the ideals of faith, flag and family. They would all be horrified to see an attack on a dead family member (and especially one who fought in the Royal Navy during the war) be seen as fair political game. It is not, and it should not be.
Ralph Miliband is hardly the first victim of this kind of shoddy journalism nor the Daily Mail the singular perpetrator. Other victims that spring to mind are Cherie Booth and Miriam González Durántez, both of whom have constant attacks made in the media on their jobs, character and choices simply by dint of being married to political leaders.
But tonight, Ed Miliband has drawn a line in the sand. He has demanded – and received – right of reply to the Daily Mail article. In doing so, he may have made one of his strongest interventions yet, changing the way we do politics in this country and making a start on rescuing our debate from the gutter and those who see the role of the press as belonging in that gutter.
Politics is incredibly important. If affects the lives of everyone. But genuine information is hard to come by, informed debate even harder. scrutiny of our politicians – their belief and their personal trustworthiness to deliver on those beliefs is essential. But personal attacks simply put off yet more people from involving themselves in the horrific blood sport that is modern politics.
This is why the MacBride book damages all of us. Not because he had a “smoking gun” (he didn’t) but because his kind of behavior and his odd crowing about it even while claiming repentance makes politics an unattractive place for all but the most godawful macho dick-swingers. Too many good people are put off doing politics well by aggressive people doing it badly.
By challenging the Mail to do politics better – and by making clear efforts to rid Labour of the poisonous briefing culture that MacBride embodied at our worst – Ed is matching plans to democratise Labour’s relationship with union members and expanding the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds. All of these measures and others talk about a new way of doing politics, a popular promise the Coalition made early in their government and have routinely failed to deliver.
The Tory message on Ed is clearly in disarray this week. They don’t know whether to keep calling him weak or start calling him dangerous. Doing both just makes them look daft. But with this move, Ed has shown himself to once again be strong in standing up for what matters – not just to him personally (as his father’s reputation clearly and rightly does) but to all those from every party who want to see a better way of conducting our politics.
Now is the time for those from other Parties to speak up and stand by Ed on this issue. It is too important for all of us who desire a more civil and better informed debate not to.