It’s hardly a surprise that Ed Miliband has called for another inquiry following the row about the Daily Mail’s treatment of his father. The Labour leader is always calling for one inquiry or another. But normally these inquiries are led by someone outside the organisation that Miliband is taking issue with: his latest call is in fact for Lord Rothermere to investigate the culture and practices of his own newspapers.
Now, there is nothing wrong with the Labour leader wanting to defend his father: that is quite natural and few would disagree with such an instinctive reaction. And there is nothing wrong with him objecting to a reporter turning up at a family memorial service. But Ed Miliband, a politician, is trying to set the standards of ‘decency’ in the press by telling a newspaper to run an investigation. He also thinks that what a politician has to say about what a newspaper should cover is important, rather than the, er, readers. His most telling line in his LabourList interview was:
‘If we’re going to have those massive debates about the cost of living, we need to have proper standards of decency in our press.’
Before the allegations about the Mail on Sunday reporter, the Labour leader had already set up a petition calling for decency in British politics, although it wasn’t clear who he was petitioning. He wants to make this fight about good character and bravery, because politicians normally quail when faced with the Mail. He laid down the same challenge to David Cameron in his conference speech, saying he would relish a 2015 election battle fought on the issue of leadership. There is a great deal of mileage in this David vs Goliath narrative that he is trying to weave. But there’s something else worth noting.
Miliband’s latest foray – which should be regarded as separate from his own personal outrage at the way his family has been treated recently – tells us a great deal about what he thinks the role of a politician should be. They shouldn’t just draw up laws and decide how public money is spent, but should also have a moral role in society, like a bishop in a red tie. The Labour leader is not the only one who thinks this way: Conservative ministers like to lecture people about the most moral way of paying tax, rather than what is legal. Lib Dems tell parents how they should talk to their daughters. And countless men and women in government have come a cropper for lecturing the public on how important marriage is. There are legislative implications of this latest row, too, which Fraser examines in his Telegraph column this morning. But it’s worth noting what Miliband’s actions have told us about how he wants to do politics, for better or worse.