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

Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war