Miliband warns the Mail that it can't rely on "rogue reporter" defence

An echo of the phone-hacking scandal as the Labour leader calls for the Mail papers to hold an inquiry into their "culture and practices".

Ed Miliband has given a series of interviews this morning (and last night to LabourList), reflecting on an extraordinary week for him. In all of his appearances, he emphasised that when he responded to the Daily Mail's attack on his father, he was "speaking as a son, not as a politican". 

 

"My dad's not alive anymore, he can't speak, but I can and that's why I did what I did," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

While some have suggested that this is a battle he relishes, he stated again that it was not one he chose, but that after speaking to his mum (for whom this must have been a wrenching experience) and to his brother, he felt compelled to defend his father's "good name". 

The second point Miliband stressed was that he wanted the next election "to be about how we raise living standards, not press standards". He added, however, that in order for the 2015 contest to be "about the issues, not about smears", it was necessary to address the question of press ethics now. 

It is this that has led him to call for Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere to hold an investigation into the "culture and practices" of his newspapers on the grounds that what happened to him and his family (with his father smeared and his uncle's memorial service gatecrashed) was not an "isolated incident".

In a choice of words that recalled the phone-hacking scandal, he argued that the Mail could not blame "one rogue reporter, or one rogue features editor". As he told LabourList, "what is it about the culture and practice of the organisation that makes these kind of things acceptable? Because the decisions made by an individual in an organisation are shaped by the culture and practice of an organisation."

Many have rightly criticised the Mail on Sunday's decision to suspend two journalists over the intrusion of the memorial service, rather than forcing Geordie Greig and Paul Dacre (who serves as editor-in-chief of the Mail on Sunday) to take responsibility. 

Miliband has insisted throughout that this affair is "not about regulation, but about right and wrong", but the two are not easily separated. Few doubt that the Mail on Sunday's behaviour would breach the code of ethics included in the proposed system of press regulation.

Next week, ministers will decide whether to accept the press's preferred model of self-regulation, or that supported by MPs. That debate aside, could the Mail have done more to damage its cause this week?

Ed Miliband delivers his speech at the Labour conference in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia