Publishers caught in crossfire of ‘Mail’ attack on Miliband
Labour leader says he is not just defending his father’s memory but also arguing for ‘proper standards of decency’ in British press
Inside the Daily Mail, most acknowledge – sotto voce, because one does not survive long there by challenging editor Paul Dacre – that last Saturday’s article, especially the “Enemy of Britain” headline, was a mistake. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
For days, Dacre, who rarely gives interviews, has sent out lieutenants to defend the paper’s decision to attack the memory of Miliband’s father, Ralph, most woundingly describing him as the man “who hated Britain”.
The lieutenants, including one of the paper’s star columnists, battled valiantly but have been on a hiding to nothing. Although there has been no obvious revolt among the paper’s readers, or advertisers.
Playing on a favourable pitch, Labour has targeted middle Britain: putting Miliband up for a long interview on BBC Radio 5, rather than the more politically-focused Radio 4 along with an early-morning TV appearance on BBC’s Breakfast.
“It’s a successful newspaper because it has many things in it people want to read . . . I’m not picking a fight with the Daily Mail, the last few days is not what I wanted,” he told Radio 5, where he repeated his call for an apology.
Enemy of Britain
Inside the Daily Mail, most acknowledge – sotto voce, because one does not survive long there by challenging the leader – that last Saturday’s article, but especially the “Enemy of Britain” headline, was a mistake.
In the Spectator, former Telegraph editor Charles Moore said it had “managed to offend against taste and decency on multiple counts – attacking a man for his deceased father’s views, misrepresenting those views, attacking a Jew, attacking a refugee from Hitler”.
The question is, what happens now? Miliband says he is not just defending his father’s memory, but arguing for “proper standards of decency in our press”.
“They’ll criticise me. They’ll say my policies are wrong, that’s absolutely fine. But when it comes to my dad and saying my dad hated Britain, I’m afraid they’re crossing a line. In all of this, they’ve never apologised for the fact they said my dad hated Britain – an idea without any foundation,” he said yesterday.
Next week, the Privy Council will meet to debate reforms offered by publishers in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry, £1 million (€1,180,000) fines, investigations, but no regulator.
Even publishers who accept that the Mail made a mistake and should have apologised will bridle at attempts to exploit it by Miliband but, more likely, the campaign group Hacked Off or Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, Alistair Campbell .
Campbell has played a starring role during the week, lambasting Dacre for being a coward and a bully for his refusal to publicly defend himself. But the irony in Campbell’s stand is not lost on those who dealt with him during his time in number 10.
Senior people around Miliband, however, are already wary that the significant gains won this week – the Mail has been bruised, Miliband’s self-portrayal of himself as righteous – should not be lost by going too far.
Dacre is not going anywhere; his contract has been recently renewed, while Associated Newspapers and Lord Rothermere will not bow in the same way that Rupert Murdoch and News International did.
Even Leveson’s proposals would not have covered the Mail’s conduct since this is about judgment, not law.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling remains wary of regulation: “Look, we have got a free press . . . and if we were to move away from having a free press I think it would be deeply damaging ultimately to this country . . . so I do think that this is something where we tread very warily.”
The newspapers’ self-regulation proposal has always faced an uphill struggle. The Tories are in favour while Labour and the Liberal Democrats are not. And campaigners such as Hacked Off are unimpressed.
The chances of Privy Council agreement next week concerning the publishers’ intentions were probably always unlikely. But Dacre’s actions have shortened the odds. And for that, his colleagues will not thank him.