I have kept my Dad out of politics. I never talked about him and his views in major speeches and certainly avoided all mention of family members when I was contesting the Conservative leadership in 1995.
I kept him out because I did not want him to experience the personal attacks, abuse and misrepresentations that go with the job of being a senior political figure in a lively democracy where voters and press like to have a go at those in or near power. I did not refer to him because as a loving Dad he did not seek to influence or interfere with my political views. I was solely responsible for what I thought and wrote, and did not turn to him to help write the speeches.
I do not wish to take sides in the row between Mr Ed Miliband and the Daily Mail. I understand why Ed has rushed to his father’s defence, and understand the main point he is making about his father’s commitment to the UK and its tolerant democracy. He should do so, as his late father cannot defend himself, and has been subjected to this posthumous examination by his son’s words and job. I can also see why Mr Miliband senior’s views on politics which he made public are of interest.
Anyone who challenges to be Prime Minister can expect an altogether more intense and energetic media scrutiny than the rest of us in UK politics. I remember journalists in 1995 suddenly contacting my former school teachers, university friends, business colleagues and members of the family on the other side of the world to check out if their memories of me squared with the statements I was making about myself and my past life. The UK public dislikes a phoney or dishonest person. Many want to stop any given individual and party achieving the highest political office, so they will dig to find unhelpful things.
The politician himself can make this more likely if he indicates that a given family member or other person in his life is or has been an important influence. It gives the media more reason and more excuse to prod and probe. I usually answer “Queen Elizabeth 1” to the question who in British politics do you most admire or who has influenced you. I do so because it is a true answer, but also because there is not much journalists can do to the past Queen that has not already been done to her. I have pointed out that I have always been uneasy about her decision to execute Mary Queen of Scots!
If a politician selects some contemporary influence then it invites guilt by association. If the person is contentious it can damage the politician, as the journalists will often then ascribe to you the worst view or thing that person influencing you has said or done. If a senior politician has a father who has been active in UK politics and has published political views, someone will ask if this influenced him. They will ask all the more if that person regularly refers to his father in his major speeches.