By Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party, writes in Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Mail:
It was June 1944 and the Allies were landing in Normandy. A 20-year old man, who had arrived in Britain as a refugee just four years earlier, was part of that fight. He was my father. Fighting the Nazis and fighting for his adopted country.
On Saturday, the Daily Mail chose to publish an article about him under the banner headline “The Man Who Hated Britain.”
It’s part of our job description as politicians to be criticised and attacked by newspapers, including the Daily Mail. It comes with the territory. The British people have great wisdom to sort the fair from the unfair. And I have other ways of answering back.
But my Dad is a different matter. He died in 1994. I loved him and he loved Britain. And there is no credible argument in the article or evidence from his life which can remotely justify the lurid headline and its accompanying claim that it would “disturb everyone who loves this country”.
Saturday’s article referred to a single diary entry by my father, written as a 17 year old, describing the suspicion he found of the Continent and the French when he arrived here. To ignore his service and work in Britain and build an entire case about him hating our country on an adolescent diary entry is, of course, absurd.
In fact, his story will make you understand why he loved Britain. Britain saved him from the Nazis. He arrived here as a 16 year-old boy – a Jew – having walked 100 kilometres with his Dad from Brussels to Ostend to catch one of the last boats out before the German soldiers arrived.
It was a boat to Britain. He arrived, separated from his mother and sister, knowing no English but found a single room to share with my grandfather. He was determined to better himself and survive. He worked as a removal man, passed exams at Acton Technical College and was accepted to university. Then he joined the Royal Navy.
He did so because he was determined to be part of the fight against the Nazis and to help his family hidden in Belgium. He was fighting for Britain.
When I was growing up, he didn’t talk much about the Holocaust years because it was a deep trauma for both sides of my family. But he did talk about his naval service.
The Daily Mail’s article on Saturday used just a few words to brush over the years my father spent fighting for his adopted country in the Second World War. But it played a bigger part in his life than that.
It was hard for him as a newcomer in the Navy. Life could be rough. But when we were growing up, he talked about how he had grown to have deep respect for the people he served with. He loved how the Navy brought together people from all classes and all backgrounds.
My father would often talk about the time he spent on the ships where his job was to pick up and translate German radio messages. He remembered the banter at meal times and recounted moments like his discharge from the Navy when his commanding officer’s parting words were: “Don’t vote Labour, Miliband.”
After the war, he went back to university. Later, he would meet my Mum, become a university teacher and raise a family. My father’s strongly left wing views are well known, as is the fact that I have pursued a different path and I have a different vision.
He was a man with a great sense of humour so the idea of me being part of some “sinister” Marxist plot would have amused him and disappointed him in equal measure and for the same reason – he would have known it was ludicrously untrue. I want to make capitalism work for working people, not destroy it.
But whatever else is said about my Dad’s political views, Britain was a source of hope and comfort for him, not hatred. Having been born in Belgium he didn’t start from a belief in the inferiority of other countries, but he loved Britain for the security it offered his family and the gentle decency of our nation.
When we went on holiday abroad, the part he would look forward to the most was coming home. When he taught in America, he hated being away from our family and from Britain. When he thought of how many Jews had been killed, including members of our family, he felt very lucky that his boat from Belgium had come here.
Like most refugees, the security of our country was really important to him. And like some refugees, he owed his life to it. So my Dad loved Britain, he served Britain, and he taught both David and me to do the same.
Britain has always benefitted from a free press. Those freedoms should be treasured. They are vital for our democracy. Journalists need to hold politicians like me to account – none of us should be given an easy ride – and I look forward to a robust 19 months between now and the General Election.
But what appeared in the Daily Mail on Saturday was of a different order all together. I know they say ‘you can’t libel the dead’ but you can smear them.
Fierce debate about politics does not justify character assassination of my father, questioning the patriotism of a man who risked his life for our country in the Second World War, or publishing a picture of his gravestone with a tasteless pun about him being a ‘grave socialist’.
The Daily Mail sometimes claims it stands for the best of British values of decency. But something has really gone wrong when it attacks the family of a politician – any politician – in this way. It would be true of an attack on the father of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, or mine.
There was a time when politicians stayed silent if this kind of thing happened, in the hope that it wouldn’t happen again. And fear that if they spoke out, it would make things worse. I will not do that. The stakes are too high for our country for politics to be conducted in this way. We owe it to Britain to have a debate which reflects the values of how we want the country run.