Jeremy Hunt refuses to condemn Daily Mail attacks on Ralph Miliband

The Health Secretary says Ed Milband's father was "no friend of the free market" as Clegg offers the Labour leader his support.

After the Daily Mail responded to Ed Miliband's defence of his father by reprinting the original smear piece ("We repeat this man DID hate Britain") and running an editorial entitled "An evil legacy and why we won't apologise", Conservative and Lib Dem ministers are rightly being challenged to condemn the paper.

Given the opportunity to do so on the Today programme this morning, David Cameron said: "I haven't read the original article, I haven't read the reply and so I'm not really in a good place to comment". He added: "All I know is if anyone had a go at my father I would want to respond very vigorously. There’s not a day goes by when you don’t think about your dad and all that he meant to you, so I completely understand why Ed would want to get his own point of view across."

But while Cameron's response was rather mealy-mouthed, Jeremy Hunt has gone even further, refusing to offer any criticism of the Mail and declaring on BBC News: "Ralph Miliband was no friend of the free market and I have never heard Ed Miliband say he supports it." When a man's dead father is being described as "evil", one might have thought that politics was a secondary issue, but not for Hunt.

Nick Clegg, by contrast, whose own family has been attacked by the Mail, has done the decent thing and offered his support to Miliband.

I support @Ed_Miliband defending his dad. Politics should be about playing the ball, not the man, certainly not the man's family.

— Nick Clegg (@nick_clegg) October 1, 2013

Shadow health secretary Jeremy Hunt speaks at the Conservative Spring Forum in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke (all of which he denies), but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reported in the Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.