Ed Miliband addresses an audience at The Backstage Centre on May 27, 2014 in Purfleet. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband's half-apology over the Sun photo will please no one

The Labour leader has been left looking like a man trying to have it all ways.

Ed Miliband's decision to pose with the Sun's World Cup edition went down predictably badly among Labour MPs. The backlash was led by those from Merseyside constituencies, who have long boycotted the paper over its reporting of the Hillsborough disaster (into which a public inquest is ongoing). Steve Rotheram, the MP for Liverpool Walton, and others met with Miliband, who was reportedly "left in no doubt whatsoever about what they thought" and responded by saying he was "very, very sorry".

A furious Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, declared: "Like everybody in this city I am really hurt and offended by Ed Milliband’s support for The S*n ‘newspaper’ today. Such clear support for that publication at any time would be wrong but at such a sensitive time is deeply shocking."

A Labour spokesperson then said: "Ed Miliband was supporting England's bid to win the World Cup"

"He totally understands the anger that the people of Merseyside feel towards the Sun over Hillsborough and fully supports the demand for justice for the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy."

After Rotheram tweeted that Miliband himself would make a public statement today, Labour issued an updated response, this time including the word "sorry". A spokesperson said:

Ed Miliband was promoting England's bid to win the World Cup and is proud to do so. But he understands the anger that is felt towards the Sun over Hillsborough by many people in Merseyside and he is sorry to those who feel offended

But while this goes further than the initial response, it's still a classic non-apology apology (of the kind that voters loathe): Miliband isn't sorry for the act itself, but sorry if anyone is offended.

The outcome is likely to please almost no one. Those appalled by what one Labour source called "that fucking photo" won't be placated by the non-apology, while those who initially defended Miliband (on the grounds that the leader of the opposition should seek good relations with the country's most-read paper) will now accuse him of lacking the courage of his convictions.

Myself, I thought the photo was a mistake. Few would have noticed if Miliband hadn't joined Cameron and Clegg in posing with paper and the well-publicised refusal of Mersey postmen to deliver the free edition (which was sent to every UK household) should have alerted him to the political dangers. While it would be unwise and gratuitous for Miliband to cut ties with the Sun entirely, he didn't need to do this. His stated aim might have been to promote "England's bid to win the World Cup" but he ended up looking like a salesman for Rupert Murdoch.

Among other things, the row has highlighted a clear disconnect between Miliband's communications operation and his political operation. I'm told by Labour sources that the latter knew nothing about the photograph before it appeared.

Miliband has often cited his decision to declare war on Murdoch and News Corp during the phone-hacking scandal as evidence of his bold leadership and his willingness to "break the rules". But just at the moment when the phone-hacking jury has retired to consider its verdict, with all that could entail, the Labour leader has been left looking like a man trying to have it all ways and painfully lacking in that most precious commodity in politics: authenticity.

Ed Miliband wants to be a "new" kind of politician, but he looked like a very old one yesterday.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.