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The Mail and Miliband: The original article was ugly enough but today's editorial surpasses it by some distance

Critics of the Daily Mail have invoked the newspaper's admiration for Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s with such regularity that they've rather exhausted its impact but anyone questioning the legitimacy of raising the Mail's pre-War stance on the Nazis should have a rethink after this week's shellacking of Ralph Miliband - the late father of the Labour party leader.

Ed Miliband

Much of the Mail's criticism of Miliband hinges on a diary entry written during the Second World War when he was just 17: "The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world... you sometimes want them almost to lose to show them how things are." It was 1941. A year earlier Miliband had escaped Nazi-occupied Belgium. Within a year he had joined the Royal Navy and he spent the rest of the War risking his life to defend his adopted country.

The Daily Mail seems to think that Miliband's expression of exasperation at his new compatriots' naivety says more about his patriotism than the three years he spent in the Royal Navy. They are wrong. If ever a rash statement deserved to be seen in a proper context, it is this one.

The Mail's well-publicised support for the fascist regimes of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler had no such exonerating context. The paper's co-founder Lord Rothermere was a personal friend of the duo and predicted that "the minor misdeeds of individual Nazis would be submerged by the immense benefits the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany."

Rothermere wasn't alone in being fooled by the Nazis - the Prince of Wales was similarly seduced by Hitler's achievements and never properly recanted his admiring verdict - and it would hardly be fair to allow this misjudgement to define Rothermere's life.

But this only makes it all the more absurd for the newspaper he founded to rubbish the name of a distinguished 20th century figure such as Ralph Miliband on the basis of a throwaway remark in a teenage diary.

The original article was ugly enough but today's editorial refusing to apologise surpasses it by some distance. It reiterates the original claim and uses excerpts from the book written by discredited spin doctor Damian McBride to back the legitimacy of its attack on Miliband. McBride claims that winning the leadership was Ed’s "ultimate tribute" to his father and describes it as an attempt to "achieve his father’s vision".

This wafer-thin justification appears under a headline that reads: "An evil legacy and why we won't apologise" which was placed on the same page as the rebuttal written by Ed Miliband that the newspaper agreed to publish.

The Mail seems to glory in its role as the nation's barking uncle. And like the unwelcome Christmas visitor who offers unrestrained bigotry after imbibing a pint or two, it's often best to ignore the Mail and cover our embarrassment with hollow laughter.

But sometimes we have a responsibility to try explaining to those who disseminate prejudice that they are cowardly, bigoted hypocrites.

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