The assumption underlying the Daily Mail’s extraordinary attack on Ed Miliband’s father is that he cannot have loved Great Britain because he was a Marxist. Ralph Miliband is accused of hating the country that gave him sanctuary, and Ed is accused of being unfit to be Prime Minister because he admires and defends his dead father.
In a sense, we can blame Marx and Engels for writing in the Communist Manifesto that “the working men have no country”. What they meant was that in the 1840s, factory workers were so impoverished and exploited that they had no stake in whatever country was their home. True or false, that observation did not prevent vast numbers of working men, and indeed some revolutionary Marxists, from fighting with great bravery when called to arms.
The Labour politician, Denis Healey, a member of the British communist party from 1937-40, served in North Africa and took part in the invasion of Sicily and the Anzio landings. His rival, Tony Benn, who was never a Marxist but was the person whose leftism belatedly drew Ralph Miliband into the Labour Party, saw war service in the RAF.
Communist organiser Bert Ramelson, was a tank commander who fought at Tobruk, was captured by the Germans, escaped from a POW camp and joined the partisans in Italy. The list goes on.
The left is also frequently accused of complicity in the appeasement of Hitler, for which we can largely blame George Lansbury, a Christian pacifist, who was leader of the Labour Party when Hitler came to power: but it was precisely because he opposed rearmament that he was replaced by Clement Attlee in 1935.
In the Mail’s tirade, Ralph Miliband’s war record was dismissed as it speculated that he was fighting against Nazis rather than for Britain. The proof, it argued, is in some ill-chosen words he wrote in his diary when he was 17 and in his contempt for the British class system.
If you do not love the monarchy, do not want to preserve the House of Lords, and did not rejoice with Margaret Thatcher over victory in the Falklands, you are no patriot, the article implies.
But patriotism takes many forms. You can love British culture and liberty and the beauty of these islands, while despising the way wealth and power is distributed: or you can be like Vere Harmsworth, father of the current owner of the Daily Mail, who managed the newspaper from his Paris home, where he did not need to pay British taxes, or like Vere’s grandfather, Harold, whose patriotism shone in a 1934 Daily Mail editorial called “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” and in the letter he wrote congratulating Hitler on annexing Czechoslovakia.
Alternatively, if you wanted to lower the tone, you could say that Harold Harmsworth’s Nazi sympathies are an “evil legacy” that makes the present Lord Rothermere unfit to own a newspaper. Fortunately, not many people in the UK are that ignorant.