So the Mail/Miliband hoo ha drags on – as I write this an argument already played out a hundred times on twitter is being hashed out afresh on Question Time. I don’t want to contribute to either side of the moral debate, but I do want to make an observation. For once, the Mail, the hymn sheet of middle England, looks out of touch, while weirdy, wonky red Ed looks positively cuddly. How did this happen?
When the Mail ran Geoffrey Levy’s piece on Ralph Miliband last Saturday, it expected some backlash. Indeed, it wanted one. Ed Miliband was apopleptic. Who wouldn’t be? The paper also will have anticipated a certain amount of outrage from what Paul Dacre usually dubs the ‘liberalocracy’. In both cases, a bit of playful disruption would have boosted the Mail’s anti-establishment image and rattled a few cages ahead of the press regulation skirmishes to come.
However, I believe it miscalculated. In a few key ways – probably no more than odd bit of phrasing, perhaps the much quoted references to an ‘evil legacy’ – it overstepped the mark. The backlash was fierce, and for once the Mail misjudged the whims of its readers. It forgot or did not realise the extent to which the British public’s narrow but basically well-intentioned sense of justice trumps its politics. Even the most buttoned-down resident of the home counties is going to care more about an impassioned chap eloquently defending his Dad than they are about ideological wranglings.
As for Miliband, this row has afforded him an opportunity Labour’s inept spinners could only dream of manufacturing – it has allowed him to look human while talking politics. Usually, he can only manage the latter. But his defence of his father, both in person and in his moving Mail piece, reminds us of the man behind the theory. What better dramatises Miliband’s attempts to forge a path between responsible capitalism and democratic socialism than his relationship with his brilliant but overly radical father? Last week, the public thought of Miliband’s politics as born in an Oxford tutorial room. Now they see them as formed of flesh and blood. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few were swayed as a result.