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
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.