Labour keeps up its attack on the Daily Mail as cracks appear in the paper's defence

Deputy editor Jon Steafel admits that it was an "error of judgement" to feature a picture of Ralph Miliband's grave with the accompanying pun "a grave socialist".

The first cracks are beginning to appear in the Daily Mail's defence of its smearing of Ralph Miliband. The paper's deputy editor Jon Steafel made a rare public appearance on last night's Newsnight and conceded that it may have been an "error of judgement" to feature a picture of Miliband's grave with the accompanying pun "a grave socialist".

It was a redoubtable Alastair Campbell who led the charge on the programme, declaring: "You [Emily Maitlis] said the Mail is a formidable opponent. The Mail is not a formidable opponent because it's run by a bully and a coward and, like most cowards, he's a hypocrite as well. Paul Dacre hasn't got the guts to come on this programme and defend something that I know Jon Steafel believes is not defensible."

He added: "These people do not believe in genuine debate. If you do not conform to Paul Dacre's narrow, twisted view of the world as all of his employees, like Steafel, have to do, you get done in. All I say to all of the politicians in Britain is that once you accept you're dealing with a bully and a coward, you have absolutely nothing to fear from them."

Confident that the public's sympathies lie with Ed Miliband, Labour has kept up its attack on the paper. A spokesman said last night:

The deputy editor of the Daily Mail tonight admitted that it was an "error of judgement" to publish a picture of Ralph Miliband's grave accompanied by a crude pun. The newspaper should now apologise. 

We continue to believe that the article headlined "the man who hated Britain" and a subsequent article which described Ralph Miliband's legacy as "evil" were smears. The deputy editor of the Daily Mail showed tonight he could not justify either of them. 

Several commentators have pointed out, as Dan Hodges did when I appeared with him on BBC News last night, that Miliband's frequent references to his father invite scrutiny of his views. But while true, this does not give the Mail a licence to print lies about him ("the man who hated Britain").

In today's Guardian, Miliband's biographer Michael Newman, whose book was used as the basis for the attack, writes: "he devoted himself to building his life here, and this was cemented by his marriage in 1961 to Marion Kozak (another Jewish survivor, who had been hidden in Poland during the war), and the birth of their two sons later in the decade. Subsequently, the only significant amounts of time he spent abroad were in teaching in North American universities, where he went almost every year from the late 1970s until shortly before his death in 1994, and where he usually felt quite homesick.

"He clearly had great affection for Britain, despite all his criticisms he voiced about its class structure, and he would devote the majority of his writing and teaching to the analysis of British politics, particularly in such classic works as Parliamentary Socialism (1961) and Capitalist Democracy in Britain (1982). And his own periodic political activity was also in a British context."

To suggest that Ed Miliband relishes this fight for political reasons, as some have done, is absurd. He is a son defending his father from a vile and hurtful attack. But the row has become a demonstration of the "leadership and character" he spoke of in his speech last week. While too often politicians have remained silent when they and their families have been smeared, Miliband has chosen to confront Dacre.

The Mail gave the game away in its editorial yesterday when it referred to Miliband's support for a new form of media regulation. But the irony is that it is smears like the Mail's that, more than anything, undermine the cause of a free press.

Ed Miliband speaks during a Q&A with party members at the Labour conference in Brighton last week. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Overlooking the effect of Brexit on Northern Ireland is dangerous for the whole UK

We voted to remain in the European Union. The tensions caused by the referendum outcome, and ignoring its effect on us, will cause utter carnage in Northern Ireland.

I’ve been from Northern Ireland all my life. Having spent many years living in Dublin, and now London, I’m quite used to that very fact making people uncomfortable. I get it. From a glance at the news, it would seem we fight each other about flags and anthems and are inexcusably proud of throwing glass at people in bowler hats, or daubing on our own homes the worst paintings ever committed to brickwork. Our tiny little protectorate has generated such disproportionate levels of confusing violence, most people are terrified of saying the wrong thing about any of it. We’re the celiac vegans of nationalities; the worry is that almost anything you offer will offend.

Most people avoid such worries by – whisper it – simply never acknowledging that we exist. This reflexive forgetfulness is, of course, a happy state of affairs compared to what went before. I refer, of course, to the period named, with that Ulster-tinged strain of sardonic understatement, the Troubles, when some 3,600 people were killed and ten times that injured. By some estimates, as many as 115,000 people lost a close relative to violence in this time, and many more a good friend, a colleague or an old school pal. Taken as a portion of 1.5m people, this means a startlingly high percentage of Northern Irish citizens have been directly affected by the conflict, certainly a higher percentage than that of, say, the English electorate who have ever voted for Ukip.

Northern Ireland also contains Britain’s only fully open border with the EU. I know because I grew up on it, specifically between Derry and Donegal, where my dad's back fence demarked an invisible boundary, a small hop from the UK to the Republic, and back. From a migration point of view, this poses a problem, so when Brexit was being deliberated, it did seem odd that Northern Ireland was barely mentioned at all, that the one border that exists in the entire country was given such scant reference during the campaign’s interminable duration. A dreaded EU migrant, travelling freely through Ireland toward my father’s house will not be subject to border checks once he has passed it quietly behind him. No machine guns, no "papers please", none of the fortified rigour mandated by the Leave campaign. Implementing such fortifications would, of course, be a practical nightmare, since so many live in Ireland but work in the UK, and vice versa. But the psychological effect of such a move would be infinitely worse.


Much of the Good Friday Agreement was predicated on free movement between north and south, and cross-border bodies that reinforced a soft-union of the two states; just enough to ameliorate nationalists, but nothing so resembling a united Ireland as to antagonise unionists. Making Irish-identifying Northern Irish citizens undergo any form of border checkpoint between the two countries would not just be a bureaucratic hassle, it would massively inhibit the self-determination nearly half of Northern Ireland's population takes from both countries’ status within a wider European state.

The peace that exists rests largely on this status quo, the acceptance of people who reject violent means and see little injustice in being allowed to live their lives within a British state that dignifies their close connection to their southern neighbours. It is hard to overstate how different this situation would be were armed checkpoints to re-emerge. I remember checkpoints as a child. I remember machine guns and dogs and my dad making sure we weren't nervous while he was being interrogated by armed men inspecting his driving license and checking under our car for explosives. This was every day. Rather than some novel development, this will be a direct, unbidden return to something we worked very, very hard to get away from, something we were promised was over, and something for which thousands of very stubborn, dangerous people struck what many considered a highly improbable truce.

It is this effort to which thousands of Northern Irish people now owe their lives, to which tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands more can count among the living and healthy their siblings, their friends, their colleagues. This may not be at the forefront of minds in Carlisle or Cornwall or aboard the statesmanlike grandeur of a battlebus, but it is the lived reality of Northern Irish people. To stoke up these tensions risks sleepwalking out of a peace that was hard-fought and long considered unthinkable. To do so as a side effect of what appears to be, on its face, little more than a tussle for the leadership of a single political party with little-to-no presence in Northern Ireland seems distasteful in the extreme.

Having stating these facts to friends here in London, I’ve been touched by their sorrow for our plight but, for all their sympathy, it might still not have registered that our problems have a tradition of travelling to people in London and Dublin, in Birmingham and in Monaghan. If greater care is not given to the thoughts, aspirations and fears of Northern Irish people, and those still-present agents of chaos who would seek to use such discontent to their own violent ends, we risk losing a lot more than free use of bagpipes or pleasingly bendy bananas.

Westminster must listen to those who would bear the burden of Fortress Britain’s turrets near their homes or else, to borrow a phrase, Brexit will be a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family's security.

Séamas O'Reilly is a writer and musician. He tweets @shockproofbeats. His website is shocko.info.