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.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.