Former Tory Cabinet Minister on Ralph Miliband

by Harry on October 3, 2013


“Ralph Miliband taught me and I can say he was one of the most inspiring and objective teachers I had. Of course, we had different political opinions but he never treated me with anything less than complete courtesy and I had profound respect for his integrity.”

“He had come here as a refugee, done his duty to his adopted country by serving in our Royal Navy during the war, become a great academic and raised a good family.

“I saw him week after week and it beggars belief that the Daily Mail can accuse him of lacking patriotism. I never heard him ever say one word which was negative about Britain – our country.

“The Daily Mail is telling lies about a good man who I knew. The people of this country are good and decent too. They do not want the Daily Mail attacking the dead relatives of politicians to make political points.”

Apparently, there is some question now about whether Paul Dacre’s father served during WWII. Unlike Ed Miliband’s father.



Adrian Kelleher 10.03.13 at 2:13 pm

So there’s reluctance in some quarters on the British right to allow Miliband Snr to be swiftboated. The contrast with the USA suggests that there the political leadership of the right is bound together by something other than values, and highlighting that should be a top priority for the Democrats.


Harry 10.03.13 at 2:18 pm

Good point. Heseltine too. More to come no doubt. And all embarrassing to the PM’s office, which has simply defended Miliband’s right to defend his father


Maria 10.03.13 at 2:36 pm

Hague trotted out the ‘I can’t possibly judge, but of course a son wants to defend his father’ line on the Today programme yesterday, along with ‘these things happen’. It came across as cowardly and unprincipled. Nice to see the grown-ups in that party are implicitly pointing this out.


chris y 10.03.13 at 2:53 pm

Neither Hague nor Cameron’s SPADs are old enough to know the first thing about Ralph Miliband at first hand. They probably had no idea he was a figure of any importance, so they were bound to be wrong footed. Interestingly, Clegg has had better advice.


Phil 10.03.13 at 2:55 pm

Hague – Christ, what a weasel. (Goes for Cameron as well, unless he’s revised his initial response.)


Jonathan 10.03.13 at 3:02 pm

Michael Gove has gone further and actually defended the Mail:

This may or may not have anything to do with his wife working for them


Phil 10.03.13 at 3:03 pm

chris – is political life that compartmentalised? It’s a depressing thought. I used to be fairly active on the Left; I’ve even met Ralph Miliband – once, briefly. But surely that’s not the only reason I knew who & what he was. I’d assumed that even the hacks on the Mail knew of his stature as an intellectual – for them it would add to the charge sheet, if anything.


chris y 10.03.13 at 3:28 pm

I used to be fairly active on the Left; I’ve even met Ralph Miliband – once, briefly. But surely that’s not the only reason I knew who & what he was.

This also exactly describes me. But I knew who and what Miliband was because the people I knew talked about him and his ideas, and because I read SR from time to time, though I should probably have read it more often. But I find it easy enough to imagine someone who became a Tory in their teens because Thatcher, and has mingled exclusively in those circles ever since who would have no idea- after all, the Blairites weren’t regularly quoting him, were they? Such people might or might not have heard of him, but they wouldn’t necessarily understand that he was more than a run of the mill lefty lecturer.


Alex 10.03.13 at 3:56 pm

I first heard of him because he was Ed & David Miliband’s dad, as it happens.


Phil 10.03.13 at 4:09 pm

Yeah, but you’re just a smart, well-informed 30-something who combines technical expertise with political awareness. I’d expect better from… hang on, I’ll come in again.


Tom Slee 10.03.13 at 4:58 pm

But even if t’younguns only heard of Ralph because of his sons, at least they heard of him then, so I don’t think chris y’s explanation holds. If you were in politics and didn’t know about Ralph’s career after the Ed and Dave show in 2010 you really weren’t paying attention.


Pub Editor 10.03.13 at 6:46 pm

As a thirty-something American, I first heard about Ralph Miliband on Crooked Timber.


bexley 10.03.13 at 10:38 pm

@ 6

Gove inhabits the same cesspit as the Mail. I’m pretty sure he’d defend them regardless of whether his wife works there.


Warren Terra 10.03.13 at 11:15 pm

Apparently, there is some question now about whether [Daily Mail editor] Paul Dacre’s father served during WWII.

It’s the Daily Mail. Assuming Dacre comes by his beliefs through descent, which side do you propose his father should have served on?


Warren Terra 10.03.13 at 11:19 pm

The weaselish responses of Cameron, Hague, and Boris Johnson, all of which amount to versions of “well, he’s got a right to love his foreigner weird evil father”, are disgusting.


adam.smith 10.03.13 at 11:22 pm

I don’t know enough about the UK to truly appreciate the Daily Mail, but this test (even has Michael Gove in it) seems like a good link
as does this song/video:
both great fun even for outsiders.


LFC 10.04.13 at 12:35 am

Just want to point out that Ralph Miliband’s name was v. well known in left-liberal or left U.S. political and intellectual circles and esp. among those of a certain age (say born ’65-70 or before). I hadn’t heard of his sons, I think, until David Miliband became foreign secretary in ’07.


LFC 10.04.13 at 12:40 am

Well, on reflection my statement in 17 is probably a bit too sweeping, but put it this way: if you subscribed to or occasionally read Dissent or The Nation or The Progressive or In These Times etc, or were a member of certain organizations, chances were good you knew who Ralph Miliband was. Might even have had, or still have, one or more of his bks on the shelf.


Chaz 10.04.13 at 2:51 am

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for governor people pointed out that his father had been a member of the Nazi party, and no one cared. “Not fair to judge him for his father’s actions. Besides I’m sure he wasn’t one of the bad Nazis.” Then people found an old interview where a bodybuilding magazine asked Arnold what person he most admired, and he said he most admired Adolph Hitler because he was a strong leader. Still no one cared. “A youthful mistake, I’m sure he’s changed.” Then several women stated that he had sexually assaulted them, and people cared a little, but not much. “Oh, in France, no one would even fuss over that.” No one will ever accuse Boris or Davey of Nazi ties, because their voters wouldn’t even care.


John Quiggin 10.04.13 at 3:49 am

What LFC says was also true in Australia, both regarding Ralph and his sons.


John Quiggin 10.04.13 at 3:51 am

Good to see the disgusting James Delingpole lining up behind the Mail. This really is a litmus test


js. 10.04.13 at 4:44 am

The age thing is probably crucial, re knowing who Ralph Miliband was. As a mid-30’s US resident with a working knowledge of British politics for the last ten years, or slightly more, I first heard of him—I think—via his sons’ involvement in politics. And here I think chris y’s point about how “the Blairites weren’t regularly quoting him” (or even mentioning him all that much?) is crucial.


Harry 10.04.13 at 5:53 am

Note, JQ, that Pub Editor first heard of Ralph Miliband in a post also headed by a verse of a Leon Rosselson song.


Harry 10.04.13 at 6:05 am

Warren Terra — your suggestion is that, by not engaging in the conflict, he showed how much he loved the country that he, by not engaging the in the conflict, he was refraining from fighting against? Good defense!


John Quiggin 10.04.13 at 6:11 am

@Harry We’ll sing The Red Flag once a year


Tim Worstall 10.04.13 at 8:09 am

“Apparently, there is some question now about whether Paul Dacre’s father served during WWII. ”

Not sure that’s entirely a surprise. Had to go and look it up but born in 1925, would have been 14 when war broke out. Would have been conscripted in ’43 or ’44, assuming health status. No particular reason to think that he’d have seen active fighting. Hell of a long tail to armed forces in those days.

Something similar happened in my own family. G’father was career RAF, too old (and injured) to fly by ’39. Father career RN, too young to join until early ’50s.

It does happen, people just being the wrong age.

Of course, Paul Dacre is foul but that’s a different matter.


Phil 10.04.13 at 8:23 am

Shorter Delingpole: “those weaklings can stuff their human decency – me and Douglas still hate queers!”

No, it really is that weird.


Metatone 10.04.13 at 8:30 am

@Tim Worstall

The suspicious bit is that magically Dacre Sr managed to avoid conscription.


godoggo 10.04.13 at 8:58 am


Leo 10.04.13 at 9:58 am


I’m not sure Douglas *does* hate queers, since he is one, and often argues conservatives should be in favour of gay marriage, etc. In fact, he once wrote a biography of Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s lover, who deteriorated in quite a tragic way into a self-hating, reactionary, anti-semite:

Delingpole, on the other hand, seems a likely homophobe. Certainly his misogyny is well documented:


Shatterface 10.04.13 at 11:30 am

Apparently, there is some question now about whether [Daily Mail editor] Paul Dacre’s father served during WWII.

And which side he was on.

I read Milliband Sr as a sociology student in the Eighties. He was hardly a headbanging lunatic.


Shatterface 10.04.13 at 11:34 am

Then people found an old interview where a bodybuilding magazine asked Arnold what person he most admired, and he said he most admired Adolph Hitler because he was a strong leader

David Bowie made a similar claim but few people still give a shit.


Warren Terra 10.04.13 at 12:33 pm

@Tim Worstall, #26
As I understand it, as someone born long after and far away, assuming decent health Dacre Sr. must have served, as even after the war there was mandatory National Service (and no few “peacetime” conscripts found themselves in peril in Malaysia or Cyprus). He wasn’t too young to serve during the war, and he wasn’t remotely young enough to avoid conscription to National Service over the ensuing decades.

In any case, invocations of Dacre Sr. aren’t serious; they’re opportunities for cheap jokes like mine above and like Shatterface’s @#31, or just a chance to point out the absurdity of asking about the father of someone whose views in their own right are hardly a big secret.


Tim Worstall 10.04.13 at 1:03 pm

” and he wasn’t remotely young enough to avoid conscription to National Service over the ensuing decades.”

Entirely agreed. Although the point made at the top is “during WWII”.

My assumption is health. Flat feet or whatever.


Phil 10.04.13 at 2:12 pm

I’m not sure Douglas *does* hate queers, since he is one

Ah. Scratch that one.

It’s all rather odd, then. But I guess if someone (hypothetically!) attacked Eric Hobsbawm for being a Communist I’d want to defend him as a member of ‘my’ side, despite the fact that I’ve been a left-wing anti-Communist for all my adult life. So I can just about see why a non-bigoted right-winger might want to defend a right-wing bigot from being attacked as a bigot. Even that’s a stretch, as I don’t really see a parallel between “being a Communist” and “being a bigot” – the latter involves a lot more lying and smearing.

But the way Murray and Delingpole are defending the Mail is still a bit weird. It’s as if I were to defend Hobsbawm on the charge of not condemning the Gulags* by saying “Damn right he never condemned them! We’re the Left – Gulags are what we do! In your face, Ivan Denisovich!”

*This really is hypothetical – I don’t know if he did or not.


crunchy 10.04.13 at 2:51 pm

This Delingpole person …. Is he for real? I didn’t know the Brits actually produced such a calibre of wingnut.


Mordaunt 10.04.13 at 2:55 pm

I was vaguely aware that Ralph Miliband was a) a Marxist academic and b) somewhat to the left of his sons. What struck me about this weeks furore is the complete absence of usable dirt on Miliband snr. Miliband must have written scads of stuff in his day, it would hardly be beyond the Mail’s resources to send some bright young thing off to do a literature review and come back with a load of embarassing stuff about how Comrade Stalin was much misunderstood and the alleged Ukranian famine was entirely the invention of Lord Beaverbrook. The only problem appears to be that Miliband studiously refrained from uttering such sentiments. I don’t think that Ed would have been quite so ferocious if he were aware of an article from, say, The New Left Review to the effect, say, that “Democratic Kampuchea is the summer of love and Pol Pot is Jesus”. The worst that has been alleged is Oliver Kamm’s point that Miliband opposed the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. Whilst Miliband was wrong about this it ought, in his defence, be mentioned that this was also the view of the Blessed Margaret (PBUH) and the anti-communist paladin, Ronald Reagan. Indeed, the Blessed Margaret took to the airwaves to lecture the nations tots on the importance of engaging with “moderate elements among the Khmer Rouge”. So I’m inclined to cut Miliband some slack, with regard to that one. In any event, redbaiting the guy looks like a waste of effort when the worst one can provide is a lonely teenager not much liking the new country and expressing his sentiments in a private diary and an insufficient enthusiasm for the martial exploits of the VietCong. To be a Marxist and a sincere democrat during the Cold War took absolutely bags and bags of integrity. Assuming there isn’t a smoking gun, or at least smoking learned article out there Ralph Miliband has gone from “Marxist Guy, father of Ed and Dave” to “Where can I purchase his books”.

The depressing alternative, of course, is that there is sheds of stuff out there, the press is too lazy to dig it up and Ed knows this. But the message from this week is that Ralph Miliband was a good bloke. And whatever their differences over the merits of social democracy Ed has inherited it.


Phil 10.04.13 at 4:06 pm

Assuming there isn’t a smoking gun, or at least smoking learned article out there Ralph Miliband has gone from “Marxist Guy, father of Ed and Dave” to “Where can I purchase his books”.

I’ve got no recollection of ever thinking Ralph Miliband was unsound on anything. (Or of ever being hugely inspired by him, but that may just be me.) They could get Hobsbawm for post-Hungary Communism; they could throw the Khmer Rouge and Faurisson at Chomsky; they could get Edward Thompson for sexism*, or for inventing a “socialist humanism” whose only living representatives appeared to be himself and Raymond Williams**; they could even get Raymond himself for refusing to say anything specific about anything***. I don’t remember anyone even trying to get Ralph Miliband. I think if it could be done it would have been by now.

*Catherine Hall
**Lisa Jardine & Julia Swindells
***R. W. Johnson


Philip 10.04.13 at 4:52 pm

My dad is probably not on the left of most issues but he was a mature student doing political philosophy through a police scholarship in the late 70’s/early 80’s and he rated Milliband as an intellectual. That’s quite some praise as he doesn’t rate many politicians or ex-politicians for very much at all. In fact I think I’ll pull The State and Capitalist Society off his bookshelf and have a read of it.


Gene O'Grady 10.04.13 at 5:12 pm

No. 26, my father was also born in 1925 (in Chicago, not UK). He was old enough to put in a year in the Pacific War and to carry scars for the rest of his life from his ship being sunk off Okinawa.

The king of picking the wrong date, by the way, is my godfather, who managed to be drafted into the US army in both world wars.


praisegod barebones 10.04.13 at 5:24 pm

Fwiw, the Miliband book I got the most out of was ‘Parliamentary Socialism’ which I read in about 1995. The basic thesis – namely that you’d never get a socialist, or indeed especially left-wing government by purely parliamentary means because of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s need to prove that it was ‘respectable’ struck me as a particularly helpful analysis of what was going on with Blair and New Labour. (You could see it as a kind of fore-runner of the critique of the discourse of ‘seriousness’ in pundits such as Tom Friedman that people have practiced here. )


Harry 10.04.13 at 6:16 pm

I strongly suspect that the three Miliband men have about as many skeletons in their combined closet as… well, if I name anyone, I am sure that person will turn out to have more skeletons in his or her closet than the Milibands have collectively.1 This is one of the ludicrous features of this whole business. Does anyone remember the Radio 4 program about Tory shadow cabinet members all owning up to their youthful illegal drug use? Someone asked David whether he had taken any illegal drugs and his one word answer, “no”, made it sound like he had no idea what they were talking about.

1. I suppose Ed could be accused of having one, but that one was committed in full public view, and made him leader of the Labour Party.


bexley 10.04.13 at 9:32 pm

@ crunchy

This Delingpole person …. Is he for real? I didn’t know the Brits actually produced such a calibre of wingnut.

Oh absolutely. Just look at Melanie Phillips’ output – or better yet don’t. Some of the higher grade nutjobs end up being exported to the US to pollute the discourse in America for more money until they meltdown (see the Derb).


dsquared 10.06.13 at 12:55 pm

Delingpole is that most awful of things, a *wannabe* wingnut hack. He most likely doesn’t believe half of these things, but it puts bread on his table and he holds out the hope of a big score at a US thinktank maybe one day. He’s the journalistic equivalent of a bloke from Chigwell walking round in a New York Raiders baseball jersey and pretending to be a massive gridiron fan.


Chris Bertram 10.06.13 at 2:33 pm

Phil: As it happens Brad DeLong and Oliver Kamm *did* try to throw the Khmer Rouge at Miliband senior, based on a Socialist Register article where he argued a (qualified) general case against military intervention against dictatorships (and also because he was doubtful about some of the stories then coming out of Cambodia).


Chris williams 10.06.13 at 3:36 pm

Kamm and DeLong are apologists / fellow travellers / useful idiots for Ho Chi Min, then? I’ll remember that when it comes to writing Kamm’s obit.


Chris Bertram 10.06.13 at 3:56 pm

DeLong’s reaction to the latest row has been to write:

I would have no problem had the Daily Mail run a story about Ralph Miliband headlined: “The Man Who Hated Uganda and Kampuchea”. But “The Man Who Hated Britain” is definitely a rhetorical lunge too far.

Kamm’s has been to differentiate himself by tweeting that Geoffrey Levy is a man of low ethics (compared to Kamm).


Phil 10.06.13 at 6:24 pm

Cheap shot from DeLong. I think the real underlying problem with this whole episode has been the way that legitimate, rationally-argued and fairly complex positions are smelted into handy chunks of Evil, fit only to be hated and denounced rather than discussed. Obviously “the man who hated Uganda and Kampuchea” is no better – at least, it’s lousy shorthand for “the man who came down, on the basis of sincerely-held principles and his assessment of the then-available evidence, for a course of action which (as far as we can tell in hindsight) might have had worse outcomes for the people of Uganda and Kampuchea than what actually did happen”.


Igor Belanov 10.06.13 at 8:21 pm

The type of person who is so sure they have the correct line and the moral high ground on every issue are the ones that are really worthy of our contempt. Their like make Tony Blair seem humble.

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