United Kingdom

Does it Matter if Your Father Was an Unpatriotic Marxist?

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Credit: Christian Guthier/wikimedia

Last week, the U.K.-based newspaper The Daily Mail published an article written by Geoffrey Levy with the headline "The Man Who Hated Britain," which analyzed the beliefs of the now-deceased Ralph Miliband, a British Marxist intellectual and the father of Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband. The article was published a few days after Ed Miliband outlined policy proposals during his speech at the Labour Party conference. The energy and housing policies, which include freezing energy prices for 20 months and the seizure of private property from land developers who don't use their property in the way a future Labour government approves of, have been criticized and even described as "Stalinist." In his article, Levy points out that Damian McBride, who served as a special adviser to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, argued in his memoirs that Ed Miliband "was obsessed with maintaining his father's legacy."

Levy's article has been criticized by some commentators and politicians in the U.K., not least by Ed Miliband, who claims that his father, a Jewish Belgian-born refugee who served in the Royal Navy, loved Britain. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some are accusing The Daily Mail of being anti-Semitic. The Daily Mail is standing by Levy's article.

In the Daily Mail article Levy highlights that Ralph Miliband did not support the Falklands War (which boosted Thatcher's popularity) and that as a 17-year-old he wrote the following in his diary:

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.

The Daily Mail published an article earlier this week that apparently quotes from Ralph Miliband:

His disdain for Britain included: 'Eton and Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge, the great Clubs, the Times, the Church, the Army, the respectable Sunday papers…

'It also means the values of the ruling orders, keep the workers in their place, strengthen the House of Lords, maintain social hierarchies, God save the Queen, equality is bunk, democracy is dangerous etc…

'Also respectability, good taste, don't rock the boat, there will always be an England, foreigners, Jews, natives etc  are all right in their place, and their place is outside.'

And these are the words of a man who 'loved Britain'?

It should be noted that both of the sons of Ralph Miliband, a man who reportedly disdained Oxford, attended that university.

Unsurprisingly, some are arguing that Ralph Miliband's words have been distorted.

I think it is possible to oppose a war your country wages, have objections to some of your country's institutions, and still be a patriot. I also believe that plenty of us have written stupid things as teenagers that we no longer endorse. Whether Ralph Miliband hated Britain or not is a distraction from the fact that Ed Miliband has been clear about his own views on socialism. The following is part of a transcript from a BBC Radio Five Live interview with Miliband in 2010:

Nicky Campbell: Are you a socialist?

Ed Miliband: Yeah, I am a socialist.

Campbell: Oh my goodness, We have not heard this from a Labour leader for a long long timewhile. Can you say it again.

Ed Miliband: I am not embarrassed about it. I'll tell you why I am not embarrassed about it. Am I a socialist? My Dad would have considered himself a socialist too-

Campbell: He was a Marxist.

Miliband: He would have said we need to have public ownership of everything, of many of the important things in society. I don't subscribe to that view. What I do say is that there are big unfairnesses in society and part of the job of Government is to bring about social justice and to tackle those unfairness and that is why I am a politician, that is why I am in politics.

Reason

Perhaps it is worth worrying about Ed Miliband's socialism, and what it would do to Britain if (god forbid) he ever becomes prime minister, rather than muse on the politics of a dead man and the influence he had on his son. Regardless of whether Ed Miliband's politics are influenced by his father or not, the outcomes of his policy proposals will be the same if they are ever implemented.

This squabble over whether Ralph Miliband loved Britain or not reminds me of the obsession some people seem to have over Barack Obama Sr. and the role he may or may not of had on his son's politics. This speculation was recently highlighted in Dinesh D'Souza's film 2016: Obama's America.

Whether it is Ed Miliband or Barack Obama, let's keep to debating the actual policies these men are proposing and stop the pointless speculation about their dead fathers' influence or patriotism. 

Reason's May 2012 issue included an interesting article on the relationship between genetics and political persuasion which you can read here.