Labour demands Ralph Miliband apology from Mail

The Daily Mail's Jon Steafel and Alastair Campbell clash on Newsnight

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Labour has demanded an apology from the Daily Mail after the newspaper said using a photo of Ed Miliband's father's grave had been an "error of judgement".

The admission came after the Labour leader accused the Mail of lying by claiming the late Marxist academic Ralph Miliband had "hated Britain".

Mail deputy editor Jon Steafel said the picture was removed from its website after Mr Miliband complained to him.

But he told the BBC's Newsnight programme he stood by the reporting.

Analysis

Ed Miliband's anger at the Daily Mail was clear enough.

There is no sure-fire way of knowing, though, how many voters share his outrage.

The party says a webpage inviting comments in support of Miliband's position has garnered some 16,000 messages.

The number of complaints to the PCC though is, so far, dwarfed by some previous rows about press conduct.

The sight of a clearly upset Miliband may have grabbed voters' attention in a way few speeches could mange.

Not for the first time, Labour's leader is defining himself by opposing powerful papers, and debating their ethics.

But the Daily Mail stands by its report, its headline, and its view that Ralph Miliband's politics are relevant and important.

And the Mail matters because it is so popular: the second best read paper in Britain, with a successful website.

However many voters sympathise with a son defending their father, this row is highly unlikely to affect the newspaper's success, or its influence.

The Labour leader's office said it had received 10,000 e-mails supporting Mr Miliband's decision to speak out against the newspaper, more than on any other issue.

In Saturday's article, journalist Geoffrey Levy questioned whether the beliefs of Ralph Miliband, who died in 1994, may have influenced the Labour leader.

In a right of reply in Tuesday's Mail, Mr Miliband said his father, a Jewish refugee who fled Belgium aged 16 to escape the Nazis, "loved" Britain and had served in the Royal Navy.

'Bad aspects'

"There is no credible argument in the article or evidence from his life which can remotely justify the lurid headline," he said.

Interviewed later in the day, the Labour leader said he was "appalled" that having allowed him to respond, the paper then repeated its original article and wrote an editorial which described his father as having had an "evil legacy".

The Press Complaints Commission said it had received 32 complaints about the article, compared with 5,000 for a story in The Sun last year about England manager Roy Hodgson. Labour has not made an official complaint.

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said this was a hugely personal matter for the Labour leader.

But he said Mr Miliband's reaction also had a political spin-off in him being seen to stand up to sections of the press expected to attack him ahead of the next election.

'Justified'

Mr Steafel said the original article's headline - "The man who hated Britain... The answer should disturb everyone who loves this country" - was "justified" when read in conjunction with the whole article .

Ed Miliband, with his father Ralph in 1989 Ed Miliband pictured with his father Ralph in 1989

He told Newsnight: "[Ralph Miliband's] views on British institutions from our schools to our royal family, to our military to our universities, to the Church to our great newspapers ... what he said was that he felt that all of those things were bad aspects, were unfortunate aspects of British life...

"If you take those things together and you combine them with an espousing of a Marxist ideology, that in our view represented someone who hated British values," Mr Steafel said.

Ed Miliband has said he does not share his father's ideology but the Daily Mail has maintained it was fair to scrutinise the beliefs of his father as the Labour leader has talked of him being an influence.

However, Mr Steafel confirmed he had agreed to remove the picture of the grave, which included the caption "grave socialist", after he had taken a call from Ed Miliband when the article was first published on its website on Saturday evening.

"I think using that picture was an error of judgement and that's why we didn't use it in the paper," he said.

Heated exchanges

In a series of heated exchanges with Mr Steafel on Newsnight, Alastair Campbell, the former director of communications at Downing Street under Tony Blair, said the Daily Mail was "the worst of British values posing as the best" and the articles were "not defensible".

Ed Miliband: ''I'm not willing to see my father's good name undermined in this way''

He said its editor Paul Dacre should have appeared on Newsnight himself.

After the broadcast, a Labour Party spokesman said: "The deputy editor of the Daily Mail tonight admitted that it was an 'error of judgement' to publish a picture of Ralph Miliband's grave accompanied by a crude pun. The newspaper should now apologise for this error of judgement."

He added: "We continue to believe that the article headlined 'the man who hated Britain' and a subsequent article which described Ralph Miliband's legacy as "evil" were smears. The deputy editor of the Daily Mail showed tonight he could not justify either of them."

Ken Livingstone, former Labour MP and Mayor of London, told BBC Radio 4 Ralph Miliband was "completely committed to the country he lived in".

He said: "The idea that you take something that someone writes at 17 and twist it in this way… it does not define what you're going to be as a grown up."

Wednesday's edition of the Daily Mail devotes four pages to the ongoing row and includes an abridged version of its editorial from the previous day.

It also highlights the support given to Mr Miliband from the prime minister and deputy prime minister on Tuesday for defending his father, as well as reflecting views from both sides of the debate by other political figures and its readers.

A new editorial says the story is "not just a personal issue. It is a fundamental question of ideology and enormous public interest".

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