Ed Miliband was today embroiled in an extraordinary war of words with the Daily Mail after the Labour leader accused the paper of “smearing” his late father as a “man who hated Britain”.
Mr Miliband demanded a right of reply in the paper after it published what he described as an “appalling” profile of his father Ralph which was based on a diary he wrote when he was a teenager.
But although the paper agreed to publish Mr Milband’s response it did so alongside the original offending article and an editorial accusing him of attempting to trying to drive a “a hammer and sickle through the heart of the nation”.
Mr Miliband responded by accusing the paper of peddling “a lie” and trying to “besmirch and undermine” his dead father for political ends.
Interestingly the Labour leader won support for his stand against the paper from both David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
Mr Clegg wrote on Twitter: “I support Ed-Miliband defending his dad. Politics should be about playing the ball, not the man, certainly not the man's family.”
Mr Cameron added: “All I know is that if anyone had a go at my father, I would want to respond very vigorously.
“There's not a day goes by that you don't think about your dad and all that he meant to you, so I completely understand why Ed would want to get his own point of view across.”
In the original article, first printed in Saturday's edition of the Daily Mail, the writer Geoffrey Levy examined the political beliefs of the Marxist academic Ralph and how these influenced his two sons.
It questioned what Ralph Miliband, who died in 1994, “really” believed in, adding “the answer should disturb everyone who loves this country”.
The Daily Mail had quoted the 17-year-old Ralph writing that the Englishman is a “rabid nationalist” and “you sometimes want them almost to lose (the war) to show them how things are”.
But Mr Miliband demanded the right of reply in the paper and said fierce debate about politics did not justify “character assassination” of his father, who joined the Royal Navy and fought in the Second World War after arriving in Britain.
Mr Milband has frequently referred to his father in speeches and how his values and experiences have shaped him.
He wrote: “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.”
Mr Miliband said he accepted politicians needed to be held to account but what appeared in the Daily Mail on Saturday “was of a different order altogether”.
He said: “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.”
But in an editorial printed alongside Mr Miliband's response the paper wrote: “We stand by every word we published on Saturday.”
It added: “Yes, as his son argues, Mr Miliband Snr may have felt gratitude for the security, freedom and comfort he enjoyed in Britain.
“But what is blindingly clear from everything that he wrote throughout his life is that he had nothing but hatred for 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.”
The paper also attacked Mr Miliband for his support of tougher press regulation in response to the Leveson Inquiry: “If he crushes the freedom of the press, no doubt his father will be proud of him from beyond the grave, where he lies 12 yards from the remains of Karl Marx.
“But he will have driven a hammer and sickle through the heart of the nation so many of us genuinely love.”
But while Mr Cameron may have defended Mr Miliband the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt appeared to take the side of the Mail.
He said Ralph Miliband was “no friend of the free market economy” and he had never heard Ed Miliband say he supports it.
“The argument between the Mail and Ed Miliband over Ralph Miliband is something that they need to sort out the details of.
“But what I would say is that Ralph Miliband was no friend of the free market economy, he thought that was wrong, and I have never heard Ed Miliband say he supports the free market economy.
“I think the important thing for voters is to know exactly where Ed Miliband stands on these fundamental issues about our society.”