Firstly over the pond our American cousins – or the Republican half – have decided that they don't need democracy any more. Instead they've shut down the government (except for the NSA spying, the drone strikes and Guantanamo: just the good bits like paying employees and opening the Statue of Liberty).
Why? Because the Republicans won't pass a budget unless Obama suspends his health insurance laws. You know, the laws that were passed four years ago by a democratically elected government, then upheld by the Supreme Court, then endorsed by the electorate when Obama was re-elected. That looks like the will of the people to me, but the Republican Party has decided that it would rather suspend an entire country's normal operations than allow people to have a weak and (from our perspective) rather poor mode of health provision. It's a matter of principle, that principle being your right as an American to sicken and die on the street without Big Guvmint interfering with their communist dialysis machines and defibrillators.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has finally gone off the deep end. It's always been evil, but now it's added wild and vicious idiocy to the mix. On Sunday, it published an article (The Man Who Hated Britain) about Ed Miliband's father, who died in 1994. Ralph Miliband was a Belgian who in 1940 at the age of 16 fled the Nazi invasion by the skin of his teeth, thus avoiding the fate of many of his Jewish family, murdered in the concentration camps. He ended up in London, working hard, pursuing an education and trying to come to terms with a world war and personal tragedy. The Mail has a single diary entry, four lines long, from when he was 17, in which he records a few caustic thoughts about British isolationism and imperialism.
I don't know about you, but I go red and wish the ground would swallow me up whenever I think about anything I said or did at that age. And I don't have a body of beautifully-argued political science to form my adult oeuvre, as Ralph did.
'The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world . . . you sometimes want them almost to lose (the war) to show them how things are. They have the greatest contempt for the Continent . . . To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation.'
What happened to Ralph Miliband? By the time he was 20, he'd decided that whatever Britain's faults were, it represented Europe's best hope for freedom and he joined the Royal Navy, serving with distinction. Afterwards, he became a leading socialist thinker (I strongly recommend his Parliamentary Socialism). Despite the Mail's best efforts to claim, Ralph utterly failed to convince his sons that the Labour Party was no longer a useful tool in the struggle for socialism. Ralph wasn't a communist, let alone the Stalinist monster the Mail claims: but he was a proper socialist, unlike David and Ed.
What was the Mail doing around the time Ralph Miliband arrived on these shores as one of the millions suffering at the hands of one of the world's most evil regimes?
Er… supporting the Nazis, both German and British. Here's it's owner proclaiming his support for Oswald Mosley's anti-semitic, pro-Nazi British Union of Fascists.
And here he is having a cozy chat with Adolf Hitler:
And here he is in another newspaper again calling for fascism in the UK. Had he succeeded, Ralph Miliband would no doubt have been gassed in a concentration camp on Salisbury Plain or the Yorkshire Moors and the camp guards would all have been Mail readers only to eager to help.
Today, the Mail grudgingly gave space to a rebuttal by Ed Miliband, and surrounded it by an editorial on Ralph's 'Evil Legacy' and a re-run of the original hatchet job, with the added detail that Ralph is buried only a few yards from Karl Marx, the traitorous bastard. Apparently the man lampooned last week as Wallace (of Gromit fame) is 'menacing' and determined to 'drive a hammer and sickle through the heart of the nation'. In Mail land, you're a traitor if your father is a) a foreigner and b) dreams of a different political philosophy. I detect a clear line of inheritance from the 30s Mail fascism to the smearing articles they're publishing today. Their problem with Ralph Miliband is that he was foreign and intellectual: terms repeatedly used to cover anti-semitism. The phrase used in the 30s was 'rootless cosmopolitans': men and women with no national allegiance and a set of ideas opposed to
the values, traditions and institutions — including our great schools, the Church, the Army and even the Sunday papers — that made Britain the safe and free nation in which he and his family flourished
Except that – oops, easily done – that list of Great British Institutions is taken from today's attack on Milibands Senior and Junior. Personally, I too oppose the 'great' (i.e. fee-paying) schools, the Established Church, the army which tortures and bombs its way round Ireland, the Empire, Iraq and Afghanistan, and I especially despise the tabloid newspapers which spent the last decade bribing, bugging and stealing. Today's Mail is still, at heart, a nasty-minded, anti-semitic toad.
But I can think of one foreigner at the heart of the Daily Mail, a man who has done more damage to this country than any forgotten and unregarded political scientist. A man who, rather than pay his taxes to keep this great country on the road, claims to be French… for tax purposes. That man is Viscount Rothermere. Yes, he has a British title and yes, his main residence is a massive mansion in Wiltshire, but for legal purposes, he's discovered that he's French. How very patriotic.
And that's not all. You'd think that the Mail, which has always wrapped itself in the Union Flag, would be horrified by its owner avoiding his responsibilities. See, for example, this campaign from the 1920s:
Sadly, racism and consistency don't go together. Whisper it, but the Daily Mail isn't a British paper. It's owned by a series of tax-avoiding Bermudan and Jersey shell companies to ensure that while it robustly lobbies on a range of political perspectives, it's never going to be subject to the same laws as the rest of us - and yet it calls Ralph Miliband The Man Who Hated Britain. Very patriotic!
There is a positive side to this story. Ed Miliband, while not my kind of socialist (i.e. not a socialist) has repeatedly displayed considerable backbone in standing up to this kind of bile. He demanded rebuttal space in the rag to demonstrate that his father did in fact love the UK for which he fought with distinction, and goes on to identify the true poison in British politics: overmighty press barons and their vicious, ad hominem attacks. I'm of course disappointed that Ed feels the need to adopt the language of kneejerk patriotism, and most especially by the (not entirely surprising) assertion that:
I want to make capitalism work for working people, not destroy it.but that's because I'd rather Ralph had led the country than most other people. But I'm impressed with Ed here, and rather less impressed with David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt and the other Tories who've been sniggered and quietly applauding the Mail's piece.
The other bright side is that this vile, unsubtle, bilious and incoherent attack, clearly carried out in connivance with the Conservative Party, shows that the right is genuinely scared of Ed Miliband and the Labour Party. They've dropped all pretence of principled opposition, fighting on the battleground of ideas, contrasting policies: they've gone right back to the days of the Zinoviev letter and the hysterical scaremongering of a class which knows things are falling apart at the seams. This is panic, but it's a panic which reveals the festering insecurities of a party and a newspaper which have happily hacked, bugged and burgled their way around Britain for too long and now spies Nemesis approaching in the form of a mild-mannered Miliband who has rather admirably decided that he's going to take them on. Once you've decided that the only line of attack is to assert that a dead man was once a) foreign and b) opposed jingoism, you've pretty much given up on any positive vision and turned back to spreading fear and lies.
What links the US government shutdown and the Mail? Simply that their political strategies are identical. Having failed ideologically, they have to invent boogeymen to scare the children. They have no ideas, only the power to spread fear and loathing. It's poisonous, and it will subvert even the lily-livered democracy we have left. What happens if the Tea Party and the Mail get their way? It won't be back to an imagined paradise of Mom'n'Pop niceness and Neighbourhood Watch: it'll be corporate terrorism, joblessness, mistrust and social decay. Have we learned nothing from the 80s Culture Wars?
Update: I gather that Peter Rhodes has used this blog as a source for snide comment in his awful little column in the local rag. Just to be clear Peter: I'm glad you're a reader, because you really, really need the education provided here, but I'm entirely unimpressed with this, and with everything you write. You are a hate-fuelled bigot with the emotional and cultural range of a slug.