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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.