Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Mail, the Nazis and the poisoning of British life

Lord Rothermere and, err, some Austrian bloke
It comes to something when Alastair Campbell, former spindoctor to Tony Blair, finds himself being cheered by swathes of the population that normally wouldn’t give him the time of day.

But that was precisely what happened last night, when Campbell appeared on BBC’s Newsnight programme to discuss the Daily Mail’s latest attempts to smear Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.

Steafel had been sent along instead of editor Paul Dacre to face down accusations that the paper had gone well over the top.

In case you’ve missed the row, the Mail decided that the best way to attack Miliband E was to attack his deceased father, Ralph, and thereby suggest that Ralph’s “evil legacy” was influencing Ed.

So dangerous is Ed, it now seems, that this sort of toxic tactic was the only answer.

Ralph Miliband was a well-known academic and Marxist. Although in terms of the latter, he was no supporter of the Soviet regime and was never a member of any Communist party.

A refugee from Nazism, when he was 17, he wrote in his diary (to paraphrase) that Britain was very nationalistic and a defeat at some point might make people see some reality.

This was the same individual who then went and joined the Navy to do his bit in WWII.

But this comment has been taken, by the Mail, as evidence that Ralph Miliband “hated” Britain. And of course the gist is simple: if the father hated Britain and was such a dodgy political sort, well, what does that say about the son ... nod, nod, wink, wink.

It seems to boil down to this: if you don’t like monarchy, the church and bicameral legislature, then you obviously hate the entire country.

Because those things are the very essence of Britain; the things that define Britain. Obviously.

When you see it like this, the wonder is that it has blown into the full-scale row that it has.

But Ed dared to object to the article last weekend. He dared to object to the Mail setting out to smear a man who was dead and couldn’t answer back – this is the same Mail, after all, that condemned anyone who didn’t do deep grief at the passing, earlier this year, of St Margaret of Grantham.

Ed was particularly peeved by the claim that his father “hated” Britain.

He was given a right of reply in yesterday’s paper – which is more than most people get when they’ve been shafted by Dacre and his minions.

But as an indication that Dacre might really be losing the plot, the paper published an edited version of the original article alongside Ed’s piece, together with an editorial proclaiming that it was standing by the original comments.

There’s more in today’s paper, including a piece about Soviet atrocities as an illustration of what Ralph Miliband believed in. Which just sort of misses the fact, mentioned above, that he was not pro-Soviet and did not support such things as what happened in Czechoslovakia, as it was then.

And so, on last night’s Newsnight programme, Steafel was sent on to defend the paper’s actions. Which he singularly failed to be able to do, merely stalling, while Campbell made himself an unlikely hero by, amongst other things, describing Dacre as a “poison in our national life”, and adding that the Mail was “The worst of British values posing as the best.”

Hilariously, Steafel tried to claim that mentions of the Mail’s own record in the 1930s was irrelevant – but not the diary entry of a teenager from pretty much the same period. Talk about making it up, etc.

Well, I’m sorry, Steafel, but your masters set the terms of this matter.

So for clarity, the Mail supported Hitler, the Nazis and our own Blackshirts.

Lord Rothermere, the then owner and great grandfather of the current owner, penned a piece that was headlined: “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, plus congratulatory and painfully crawling telegrams to old Adolph, while he himself was lauded by Goebbels in 1937, in the following terms:

“Very small party for lunch. Rothermere pays me great compliments. Enquiries in detail about German press. Strongly anti-Jewish ... Rothermere writes and good and useful articles in favour of an Anglo-Herman alliance. He is a strong supporter of the F├╝hrer”. (p196 Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II by David Faber).

Now who is it that has left an “evil legacy”?

Reaction has not seen a split upon obvious tribal political lines. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both, if not condemning the Mail, supported Miliband E’s decision to challenge it.

Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has come out strongly against the paper. The Mail's own website saw damning comments from many readers.

There’s nothing wrong with “robust”, but this ain’t “robust” – it’s a straightforward attempt at character assassination and smearing.

What's good for the goose ...
If only we did have a “robust” news media, but by and large, we don’t.

Miliband E has, of course, been supportive of independent regulation of the press, which Dacre is completely opposed to, regularly misrepresenting any such plans as ‘state regulation’, which nobody has proposed.

But then, Dacre is not one to let facts get in the way of what he wants.

He’s renowned as a bully. His editorial meetings are known as ‘the vagina monologues’ because of the language he uses – and as someone who’s sat in an awful lot of editorial meetings themselves, let me assure you that you don’t need to be an expert in ‘double-cunting’, as Dacre apparently is, in order to produce decent journalism.

An adulterer himself, he edits a publication that is obsessed with sex and with exposing people’s private lives, even when there is no legitimate public interest argument for doing so.

How very British.

The current Rothermere shows his love for Britain by registering his company in Bermuda, claiming that he and his wife live in France – and paying no tax in the UK on all the money he makes from the lies and the sordid attempts to titillate and shock the readership.

The problem with all this is simple: the Mail has been allowed to get away with its bullying, nasty approach for years, to the extent that it has far too much political influence and clout for something that should be merely considered a comic.

There are people who claim that they read it but don’t believe it. There are, however, plenty who read it and allow it to inform their own opinions – no matter how generous the paper’s editorial team is with a definition of ‘the truth’.

You do not have to be uncritical about a country to love it – on that basis, the Mail is so hate-filled that it must, by its own definition, hate Britain.

But in a democracy – a genuine one, at any rate – you should be able to comprehend that people can have different ideas about what a country should be like, but that that does not mean that only some of them love the said country.

And goodness – haven’t there been enough illustrations, throughout history and across the world, of unquestioning patriotism causing untold suffering, for anyone to seriously pretend that they have the monopoly on what is ‘right’ when it comes to loving one’s country?

Perhaps Dacre merely confuses country and cunt?

Increasingly, I wonder whether he and Rothermere actually do care about anything other than profit and the money in their own bank accounts.

They have helped to bring public discourse and debate in the UK to the parlous level it currently inhabits, yet seem determined to carry on along the same route. Dacre has, indeed, just been given a new contract, in spite of rumours that he might retire next month, when he hits 65.

For clarity, I don’t want the Mail banned or prohibited. I’d simply like it – and the rest of the media – to show some journalistic scruples – a journalism realised that the country as a whole would be better off with a “robust” media that questioned and chased, but without mixing editorial and reporting, and with a belief that facts are actually a good thing.

Equally, I have no desire whatsoever to outlaw offence – far from it. There should never be any right to not be offended.

For further clarity, I’m not even suggesting that the Mail should not have published the original article, but that what it has done shows what it is; shows up its own double standards and shows how desperate it is to push its own agenda – and when it cannot do the latter by fair means, it will use the dirtiest that it can.

And if saying that, and believing that there are things that could be done that would make this country a better place to live for more of its population means that I’m a hater, well thank god I’m on this side of that fence.

In the meantime, polling conducted between 30 September and yesterday, on behalf of the Sun [pdf], shows that Ed’s ratings have increased.

That, of course, is partly in response to a raft of policies, announced at the Labour Party conference less than a fortnight ago, that have had some right-wingers frothing at the mouth.

But one could be forgiven for thinking that the idea of a price freeze on domestic energy bills is a popular one with those polled – and also that this row has done nothing to diminish Ed Miliband in the eyes of the public.

So for all the reasons that the Mail hates Miliband E, from that touted energy policy to Leveson, the poisonous Dacre decided to launch an astonishing attack – not just on Ed, but on a man who has been dead from some years: a man who did serve his country.

Unlike Dacre’s own father, who apparently managed to spend the war as a showbiz correspondent for the Express.

And it’s difficult to imagine that Dacre’s actions in the last few days have done a single thing to advance the cause of those who wish for no regulation of the media whatsoever – unless they’re the ones doing the ‘regulating’.

Perhaps he and Rothermere really have finally lost the plot completely.

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