THERE has been much outrage this week over the Daily Mail's article last Saturday about Labour leader Ed Miliband's late father Ralph.


Was anyone really surprised by the article, which included a headline claiming the Marxist historian hated Britain?

The piece was classic Daily Mail, a newspaper that - under its reclusive editor Paul Dacre - is never happier than when it is scaring or outraging the nation via its own peculiarly right-wing view of the world.

Of course, Mr Miliband is right to defend his father's reputation. Wouldn't we all in the same situation?

Of course, the Mail's piece and the way in which it was displayed is particularly loathsome and odious.

But it is what the Daily Mail does.

And, love it or hate it, it is the second-most popular newspaper in Britain behind The Sun and has the most-viewed English-language newspaper website in the world.

So it is doing something right in many people's eyes.

And what it printed last Saturday was an opinion piece. No-one is forced to read it. No-one is forced to buy the paper. No-one has to agree with the Mail's view of Ralph Miliband.

Some commentators suggested the article was another example of the failure of Press regulation in this country. Nonsense.

In my view, the Daily Mail is a nasty newspaper with a nasty set of opinions. I would never defend its opinion of Ralph Miliband or the way in which it has chosen to express it.

But I will defend to the death its right to hold and voice such opinions.

The moment we begin to regulate opinion is the moment we stop being a free, democratic nation.

The Daily Mail trades on hysteria and little England opinions. But it has an audience and it knows exactly how to appeal to it.

Its editorial policy is based on bullying and smearing those who - in the opinion of Mr Dacre - are enemies of its view of the world.

The best way to deal with such policies are to ignore them.

All this week's debate has done is make the Daily Mail even more high profile and - I guarantee this - added to its sales figures.

The biggest criticism I have of the Mail's conduct this week is the failure of Mr Dacre to defend his newspaper's position. His deputy has been wheeled out on television and radio programmes to debate with the newspaper's critics and defend the contentious article. He has failed miserably. Indeed, it often looked as though he didn't really believe what he was having to say.

If the Argus was in a similar position, I wouldn't be sending out my deputy to speak on my behalf. I make the decisions, therefore I should defend them.

The Mail's attack on Ralph Miliband was cowardly. But when a newspaper is led by an editor who is not brave enough to defend his own decisions in public then is that really a surprise?

* This column is taking a break for the next three weeks while I take some well-earned (others might disagree!) leave. The Editor's Chair will be back on October 31.