Someone uses a copy of the Daily Mail newspaper to shield their identity from the demonstrators and the media as they arrive at the Bilderberg conference. Photo: Getty
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It's time for all politicians to unite against the likes of the Daily Mail

Ed Miliband is challenging the way we do politics, and quite right too. When will other politicians step up and join him?

On Saturday, the Daily Mail published one of the most horrendous example of the dark political arts I have ever come across. Forget Damian McBride, to denigrate (yes Geoffrey – to traduce even) the life of a dead man for political advantage is about as low as it is possible to stoop.

I have written previously about the positive aspects of the Daily Mail. The reasons I have enjoyed reading it in the past and the reasons other do too. The people I know who read the Daily Mail are good people. Conservative (sometimes with a small c, sometimes with a large one) they are people who could best be described as encapsulating the ideals of faith, flag and family. They would all be horrified to see an attack on a dead family member (and especially one who fought in the Royal Navy during the war) be seen as fair political game. It is not, and it should not be.

Ralph Miliband is hardly the first victim of this kind of shoddy journalism nor the Daily Mail the singular perpetrator. Other victims that spring to mind are Cherie Booth and Miriam González Durántez, both of whom have constant attacks made in the media on their jobs, character and choices simply by dint of being married to political leaders.

But now, Ed Miliband has drawn a line in the sand. He has demanded – and received – right of reply to the Daily Mail article. In doing so, he may have made one of his strongest interventions yet, changing the way we do politics in this country and making a start on rescuing our debate from the gutter and those who see the role of the press as belonging in that gutter.

Politics is incredibly important. If affects the lives of everyone. But genuine information is hard to come by, informed debate even harder. scrutiny of our politicians – their belief and their personal trustworthiness to deliver on those beliefs is essential. But personal attacks simply put off yet more people from involving themselves in the horrific blood sport that is modern politics.

This is why the McBride book damages all of us. Not because he had a “smoking gun” (he didn’t) but because his kind of behavior and his odd crowing about it even while claiming repentance makes politics an unattractive place for all but the most godawful macho dick-swingers. Too many good people are put off doing politics well by aggressive people doing it badly.

By challenging the Mail to do politics better – and by making clear efforts to rid Labour of the poisonous briefing culture that MacBride embodied at our worst – Ed is matching plans to democratise Labour’s relationship with union members and expanding the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds. All of these measures and others talk about a new way of doing politics, a popular promise the Coalition made early in their government and have routinely failed to deliver.

The Tory message on Ed is clearly in disarray this week. They don’t know whether to keep calling him weak or start calling him dangerous. Doing both just makes them look daft. But with this move, Ed has shown himself to once again be strong in standing up for what matters – not just to him personally (as his father’s reputation clearly and rightly does) but to all those from every party who want to see a better way of conducting our politics.

Now is the time for those from other parties to speak up and stand by Ed on this issue. It is too important for all of us who desire a more civil and better informed debate not to.

This post first appeared on Emma's blog, scarletstandard.co.uk, and is crossposted with her permission

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We argue over Charlie Gard, but forget those spending whole lives caring for a disabled child

The everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over life and death.

“Sometimes,” says the mother, “I wish we’d let him go. Or that he’d just been allowed to slip away.” The father agrees, sometimes. So too does the child, who is not a child any more.

On good days, nobody thinks this way, but not all days are good. There have been bright spots during the course of the past four decades, occasional moments of real hope, but now everyone is tired, everyone is old and the mundane work of loving takes a ferocious toll.

When we talk about caring for sick children, we usually mean minors. It’s easiest that way. That for some parents, the exhaustion and intensity of those first days with a newborn never, ever ends – that you can be in your fifties, sixties, seventies, caring for a child in their twenties, thirties, forties – is not something the rest of us want to think about.

It’s hard to romanticise devotion strung out over that many hopeless, sleepless nights. Better to imagine the tragic mother holding on to the infant who still fits in her loving arms, not the son who’s now twice her size, himself edging towards middle-age and the cliff edge that comes when mummy’s no longer around.

Writing on the tragic case of Charlie Gard, the Guardian’s Giles Fraser claims that he would “rain fire on the whole world to hold my child for a day longer”. The Gard case, he argues, has “set the cool rational compassion of judicial judgement and clinical expertise against the passion of parental love”: “Which is why those who have never smelled the specific perfume of Charlie’s neck, those who have never held him tight or wept and prayed over his welfare, are deemed better placed to determine how he is to live and die.”

This may be true. It may also be true that right now, countless parents who have smelled their own child’s specific perfume, held them tightly, wept for them, loved them beyond all measure, are wishing only for that child’s suffering to end. What of their love? What of their reluctance to set the world aflame for one day more? And what of their need for a life of their own, away from the fantasies of those who’ll passionately defend a parent’s right to keep their child alive but won’t be there at 5am, night after night, cleaning out feeding tubes and mopping up shit?

Parental – in particular, maternal – devotion is seen as an endlessly renewable resource. A real parent never gets tired of loving. A real parent never wonders whether actually, all things considered, it might have caused less suffering for a child never to have been born at all. Such thoughts are impermissible, not least because they’re dangerous. Everyone’s life matters. Nonetheless, there are parents who have these thoughts, not because they don’t love their children, but because they do.

Reporting on the Gard case reminds me of the sanitised image we have of what constitutes the life of a parent of a sick child. It’s impossible not to feel enormous compassion for Charlie’s parents. As the mother of a toddler, I know that in a similar situation I’d have been torn apart. It’s not difficult to look at photos of Charlie and imagine one’s own child in his place. All babies are small and helpless; all babies cry out to be held.

But attitudes change as children get older. In the case of my own family, I noticed a real dropping away of support for my parents and disabled brother as the latter moved into adulthood. There were people who briefly picked him up as a kind of project and then, upon realising that there would be no schmaltzy ending to the story, dropped him again. Love and compassion don’t conquer all, patience runs out and dignity is clearly best respected from a distance.

All too often, the everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over who gets the right to decide whether an individual lives or dies. I don’t know any parents who truly want that right. Not only would it be morally untenable, it’s also a misrepresentation of what their struggles really are and mean.

What many parents who remain lifelong carers need is adequate respite support, a space in which to talk honestly, and the recognition that actually, sometimes loving is a grim and hopeless pursuit. Those who romanticise parental love – who, like Fraser, wallow in heroic portrayals of “battling, devoted parents” – do nothing to alleviate the suffering of those whose love mingles with resentment, exhaustion and sheer loneliness.

There are parents out there who, just occasionally, would be willing to set the world on fire to have a day’s respite from loving. But regardless of whether your child lives or dies, love never ends. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.