Let’s start — oh, please, let’s start! — with a Rat and the Mail a Mole:
“Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING — absolute nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing — about — in — boats; messing ——’
`Look ahead, Rat!’ cried the Mole suddenly.
It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.
For, my fellow River-bankers, the topic of the day is Ralph Miliband and the Daily Mail. In particular, was Ralph — as Geoffrey Levy maintained in his Saturday Report, and has to regurgitate today:
Apologies for shouting there; but that’s the way things work in the Stentorian world of Paul Dacre and the salubrious 4ème Arrondissement of Viscount Rothermere.
We should not greatly fret about such journalistic bad-mouthing, except it has the classic characteristics of the mob orator:
We know that the Jew whether he is baptized as a Protestant or as a Catholic, remains a Jew. Why cannot you realize, you Protestant clergymen, you Catholic priests, you who have scales before your eyes and serve the god of the Jews who is not the God of Love but the God of Hate. Why do you not listen to Christ, who said to the Jews, ‘You are children of the devil’
or, a further consideration:
- it’s the old “I’ll define your terms for you” trick of the tub-thumper.
Consider this from Levy’s piece:
Having read the manuscript [0f Socialism for a Sceptical Age] before publication, David wrote to his father asking, ‘whether you are restating a case that has been traduced in theory or practice, or whether you are advancing a new case. I think that the book reads like the former . . .
‘The word ‘traduced’ – which means ‘disgraced’ or ‘denigrated’ – was surely rather harsh, considering his aged father had always included his two sons (even when they were small), in the trenchant political discussions with ever-present academics and Left-wing thinkers that took place round the basement dining table of the family home in Primrose Hill, North London.
Err, no, Mr Levy. Consult the OED, and you’ll need to scroll down to the third definition of “traduce” before you come to your take on the word. And if you want any notion of “calumnious blame”, that’s one of the “obsolete constructions”. As for “to bring dishonour upon, dishonour, disgrace”, which seems to be your whim, that’s down at “3c” and “Obs. rare”
- the minimising thing
Here, in summary, is Levy’s account of Ralph Miliband’s early time in Britain:
This was the immigrant boy whose first act in Britain was to discard his name Adolphe because of its associations with Hitler, and become Ralph, and who helped his father earn a living rescuing furniture from bombed houses in the Blitz.
Quickly learning English, he got a place at the London School of Economics (LSE), which had then moved temporarily to Cambridge to avoid the bombing, and there he was taught politics by Harold Laski, a giant of Labour’s Left, whom some Tories considered to be a dangerous Marxist revolutionary.
Laski was Miliband’s mentor, his inspiration, the figure who encouraged his growing interest in Karl Marx.
Ralph Miliband then served three years in the Royal Navy, returning when the war was over to his studies at the LSE, and within a few years was teaching there himself.
Let’s skim over those coarse and contrived “Adolphe … associations with Hitler” (as the Daily Mail must itself do, too well).
Messing about in boats
In 1940, as the German armies were beginning to roll into Belgium, the Milibands, like thousands of others, prepared to flee to France. This proved impossible because of German bombardment. Ralph and his father walked to Ostend and boarded the last boat to Dover, which was packed with fleeing diplomats and officials. His mother and younger sister, Nan, had remained behind and survived the war with the help of the Resistance.
Ralph and his father arrived in London in May 1940. Both worked, for a time, as furniture removers, helping to clear bombed houses and apartments. It was Ralph who determined the division of labour, ensuring that his main task was to carry the books. Often he would settle on the front steps of a house, immersed in a book. His passion for the written word led him to the works of Harold J. Laski. He had read in one of these that Laski was at the London School of Economics (then exiled in Cambridge) and was determined to get there. His English was getting better by the day and after his matricu[l]ation, he did find his way to the LSE. Laski became a mentor, never to be forgotten. Only several months ago in a review-essay for the 200th issue of the New Left Review, Ralph Miliband acknowledged his debt:
I came to know Harold Laski as a student at the LSE between 1941 and 1943; and I was fairly close to him after I came back to the LSE in 1946. I was quite dazzled, as a 17-year-old student, by his scholarship, his wit, his extraordinary generosity to students, and his familiarity with the great and the mighty. I had a deep affection for him, which the passage of years since his death in 1950 at the age of 56 has not dimmed.
The three missing years to which he refers were spent in service as a naval rating in the Belgian section of the Royal Navy. Aware of the fact that many of his Belgian comrades were engaged in the war against Fascism and traumatised by the absence of his mother and sister, he had volunteered, using Laski’s influence to override the bureaucracy. He served on a number of destroyers and warships, helping to intercept German radio messages. He rose to the rank of Chief Petty Officer and was greatly amused on one occasion when his new commanding officer informed him how he had been rated by a viscount who had commanded the ship on which he had previously served: ‘Miliband is stupid, but always remains cheerful.’
Warmer? Yes. More understanding? Yes. More Human? Yes. More helpful? Undoubtedly. Unpatriotic? Huh!
Yes, true to form the Mail is all too, too trite: what Lord Salisbury nailed as “written by office boys for office boys”.
And so to the irony
Actually, the Mail doesn’t do irony, at least consciously. Which makes so much of its self-subversion all the richer.
… what is blindingly clear from everything [Ralph Miliband] wrote throughout his life is that he had nothing but hatred for the values, traditions and institutions — including our great schools, the Church, the Army and even the Sunday papers …