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London - The leader of Britain's main opposition party, Ed Miliband, was locked in a bitter war of words with a tabloid newspaper on Tuesday after it branded his late father “the man who hated Britain”.
The Labour Party leader hit back at an article in the right-leaning Daily Mail about his Marxist theorist father Ralph. The tabloid claimed its revelations would “disturb everyone who loves this country”.
The newspaper agreed to publish Miliband's response to an article Saturday which claimed the Labour leader was intent on bringing back socialism in homage to his father.
The Mail's article cited a diary entry written by the 17-year-old Ralph Miliband's during World War II in which he said:
“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.”
Ed Miliband said newspapers should hold politicians to account but the piece published Saturday was “of a different order”, saying there was nothing that could “remotely justify the lurid headline”.
He said it was “absurd” to draw such damning conclusions from a teenager's diary.
“I know they say 'you can't libel the dead' but you can smear them,” the 43-year-old wrote.
Ralph Miliband, who died in 1994 aged 70, fled Belgium in 1940 to escape the Nazis, before joining the British navy and taking part in the D-Day landings in northern France.
“Fierce debate about politics does not justify character assassination of my father,” Ed Miliband wrote, “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'.
“Britain was a source of hope and comfort for him, not hatred.”
He said politicians should no longer stay silent for fear that speaking out would make things worse.
However, the Daily Mail was unrepentant on Tuesday, reprinting Saturday's article beneath Miliband's response, with the headline:
“We repeat: This man DID hate Britain.”
It said while Ralph Miliband might have felt gratitude for the “security, freedom and comfort” he enjoyed in Britain, it was “blindingly clear” that the “lifelong, unreconstructed Marxist” had “nothing but hatred” for its “values, traditions and institutions”.
And if Ed Miliband gets his way on state-backed press regulation, the Labour leader “will have driven a hammer and sickle through the heart of the nation”, it added.
Prime Minister David Cameron offered support to his political rival.
“If anyone had a go at my father, I would want to respond very vigorously,” the Conservative leader said.
Ed's brother David was foreign minister under prime minister Gordon Brown.