In the latest spat, the Mail has criticised Ralph Milliband (father of Labour Leader Ed Milliband) for holding left wing views, which in the stilted world of the Daily Mail equate to hating Britian. As far as I can work out from what I know of Mr Milliband, he hated injustice and inequality, which are two totally different things. Mr Milliband arrived in Britain as a refugee and joined the armed forces. Unlike the sanctimonious editor of the Mail, Mr Milliband actually put himself at risk of death to preserve the good things we cherish, such as free speech and democracy. Mr Milliband hoped that victory over fascism would lead to a better world and a better Britain for all of the people who lived here, not just and elite few.
As the debate has unfolded, my thoughts turned to my own father. Like Mr Milliband, he was not born in Great Britain. He was born in Queensland, Australia. He joined the Army and then joined the Empire Air scheme, which was set up to supply pilots for the RAF. After training my father qualified as a Pilot officer and arrived in Great Britain in 1942 to fly Wellington bombers. He was assigned to 40 squadron and was sent to North Africa to support Montgomery in the desert campaign. Much of 1942/3 was spent living in makeshift airfields in tents. Conditions were primative but as someone raised in the outback of Australia, not too harsh for my father. He joined the airforce as he thought it would be exciting and it would give him the chance to see the world. He was thrilled to see Cairo and the pyramids. He also got a fair share of action. As the campaign would down, he arrived back in England. He'd met my mother and spent some time at Moreton in the Marsh airfield, regularly trekking down to Burnt Oak to take my mother out.
At the start of 1944, he was transferred back to Foggia in Italy with his squadron and a relentless pattern of missions was undertaken. Targets included ball bearing factories in Germany, shipping in Italy and sites in the Balkans and Romania. In June 1944, he was shot down on the final mission of his 40 operation tour, near Ploesti in Romania, whilst bombing an airfield. The rear gunner in his plane died and the rest of the crew were taken prisoner and ended up in a camp in Bucharest. 68 days later, they lead a mass escape and 128 airmen made contact with partizans in Yugoslavia. They arranged for the US air force to fly in and repatriate them to Italy. That was the end of the active war for my Father. The events scarred him and he had terrible health issues related to what we no call post traumatic stress disorder for much of the 1950's.
He stayed with the airforce until 1946, then worked as a commercial pilot in the middle east. He thens et up MacMetals crash repair business in Mill Hill and ran the business until he retired. He was a man who was both religious and civic minded. As an active Roman Catholic, he joined the Knights of St Columba, a charitable organisation, the Rotary club and he played Cricket. At one time the firm employed 15 people and he took a patriarchal view of his staff. I still meet ex employees in Mill Hill who speak highly of him and customers who remember the service and the kindness he showed when they were stuck. He died aged 69 in 1987.
In short, he was a man who had made an enormous contribution to his country and his community. As I thought about him, I wondered how he would fare if the Daily Mail chose to do a hatchet job? My father was born in Blackall in the outback of Queensland. He'd not seen snow until he was transported to Boston in the USA in 1942. He'd never even been cold. He hated the British weather. He always claimed it would be death of him and it was. During the long English winters, he would get mildly depressed and curse the cold. His job involved standing in freezing cold workshops for hours on end. he couldn't stand it, but ha dno real choice. He had six children to home and feed.
Whilst my father was a Conservative, he also hated the British class system. As an Aussie, he had a complete disdain for the inbuilt inequality of our society. He would use any chance at all to get one over on the authorities. This started in the airforce and carried on into civilian life. I can remember him getting stopped by the police and pointing out six things on the police car which would constitute a nick. He reminded the officer that Police cars were as covered by the law as his own car. The speeding ticket was quickly forgotten. Through the rotary club and other charity work, he'd often attend charity dinners. To my mothers complete horror, he'd take great delight in stealing sausages from the mayors dinner plate. He had a complete disregard for many aspects of the law. On one occasion, our house was suffering from subsidence. A surveyor advised that this was caused by a neighbours tree. My father suggested that they chopped it down. They refused. He simply waited until they went on holiday and chopped it down himself. When they returned and confronted him, he suggested that the tree fairies had taken it to heaven.
Another aspect of British society that appalled him was the institutional racism inherent in our society at the time. Although his language was colourful towards various ethnic minorities (as was usual at the time), he would not tolerate any unfairness. He would employ staff based on ability and pay accordingly. He insisted that people were treated with kindness and respect. In the Roman Catholic tradition, I received the name of a saint as my middle name. My Dad chose Martin, after St Martin De Porres, who was the first black saint. My Father suggested that this would always remind me that we are all equal and brothers.
Towards the end of his life, my Dad bought a boat in Florida. He loved the climate and the lifestyle. He wanted to live on the boat. My sister lives in Florida and he moored up next door to her. My mother hated it. In the end she gave him an ultimatum, me or the boat. He chose my mum. That was the only reason he stayed in England. As a compromise, they'd spend the worst of the winter in Florida and the rest of the year in the UK. In January 1987, they were in Florida when my mothers sister died. They flew back and 24 hours later, my father had an anuerism brought on by the cold.
When I read about the comments in the Daily Mail, I was reminded of a situation a couple of years ago where a local BNP activist started leaving comments about my Father in comments on various websites. Now this man had never met my father and made comments about his war record (which is available on line), implying he was a coward. How anyone could say that about a man who flew 40 bombing missions in an obsolete aircraft I don't know, but I was infuriated. Had I met the said person in the street, I would not have been responsible for my actions. I was absolutely livid. The purpose of the comments was a cowardly, spiteful attack, designed purely to upset me. I did not take it lying down and when challenged the BNP activist backed down and apologised, accepting that he'd made an error of judgement.
In light of this experience, I have a great deal of sympathy for the Milliband family. I don't think "anything goes" just because I disagree with there politics. I am sure all manner of people I don't like have dead uncles, dads, mums and grannies who could be "exposed". The point is that it would be revolting to do such a thing. This blog has campaigned long and hard against One Barnet, but if we published a blog slagging off a dead relative of Barnet Council Leader Richard Cornelius or the MD of Capita, I'd hope we'd be shunned. The case could be made that in certain circumstances, there is a public interest in digging up such stories. Perhaps to show the hypocricy of the owners of the Daily Mail, who attacked a British veteran when their forefathers supported the Nazi movement in print is a case. There was a nasty public spat between the owners of the Mail and the Daily Express a few years back, where the Mail attacked the Express owner for publishing porn mags. The Express responded with a series of exclusive front page stories about the sins of the Rothemere family who own the Mail. The Mail owners suddenly found themselves on the wrong end of the hatchet job and didn't like it. They backed down and have since laid of the Express owners. Sadly the Millibands don't own a national paper, so don't have the means to fight fire with fire.
It is truly incredible that the Mail newspaper cannot see that their comments were out of order. We don't have to agree with Ed Milliband, we don't have to agree with Ralph Milliband's brand of Marxist politics. I do however think that any decent and honourable human being would do two things. Firstly they would respect the fact that Mr Milliband served in the armed forces and put himself at risk.Secondly we should respect the fact that Mr Milliband had relatives who cared about him. He was not a monster who hurt other people, he was simply an honest man with deeply held views. I didn't agree with many of Lady Thatchers politics, but when she became infirm and then passed away I felt that we should respect her as a mum and a human being and respect her family. If the dead relatives of anyone in public lives become fair game for the national press, purely for spiteful attacks on politicians, then I despair for our society.
I have always supported a free press and even with the actions of the Daily Mail I have not changed my views. If people want to publish such tripe, then that is one of the costs of living in a free society. More to the point though, every single person who continues to buy the Daily Mail endorses the editorial line of the editor and owner and the refusal to back down. If you want to be thought of as someone who has no respect for their fellow man and who sees politics as a field where anything is justified to achieve an end, by all means buy the Daily Mail. If you don't then give the horrible rag a holiday until the owners see sense and do the decent thing. You don't have to buy it and they won't learn if you simply carry on. Who knows who they may pick on next.