Nick Clegg: it's the Daily Mail that really hates Britain

"It seems to me that if anyone excels in denigrating and often vilifying a lot about modern Britain, it's the Daily Mail," says Clegg on his LBC show.

One of the ironies of the Daily Mail's smearing of Ralph Miliband - "the man who hated Britain" - is how vulnerable the paper, with its loathing of multiculturalism, the BBC, the welfare state and immigration, is to the same charge. On his LBC phone-in this morning, Nick Clegg became the first politician to make this point, and did so brilliantly. 

He said

My honest reaction was that when I heard the Daily Mail accusing someone of saying that they did not like Britain, I'm not a regular reader of this newspaper but every time I do open it, it just seems to be overflowing with bile about modern Britain. They don't like working mothers, they don't like the BBC, they don't like members of the royal family, they don't like teachers, they don't like the English football team. The list goes on. So talk about kettles and pots ... It seems to me that if anyone excels in denigrating and often vilifying a lot about modern Britain, it's the Daily Mail.

The Lib Dem leader and the Mail have, of course, never seen eye-to-eye. At the height of Cleggmania, the paper ran a memorable hit-piece accusing him of a "Nazi slur on Britain". 

The smear was based on a 2002 Guardian piece written by Clegg in which he wrote: "All nations have a cross to bear, and none more so than Germany with its memories of Nazism. But the British cross is more insidious still.

"A misplaced sense of superiority, sustained by delusions of grandeur and a tenacious obsession with the last war, is much harder to shake off. We need to be put back in our place."

In the case of Ralph Miliband, the paper similarly misrepresented his words, in this instance an adolescent diary entry, to claim that he hated Britain (the similarity between his and Clegg's observations is striking). As a 17-year-old Jewish refugee, Miliband wrote: "The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world…You sometimes want them almost to lose [the war] to show them how things are. They have the greatest contempt for the continent. To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation."

The earlier Clegg affair is a reminder that the paper has form in this area and that its past support for fascism has never restrained it from lecturing others. 

Nick Clegg speaks at the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2013 in New York. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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