British politician in “shows backbone” shock.

So if media reports are to be believed, the leader of the British Labour Party, Ed Miliband, whose mild criticisms of contemporary capitalism led to a vicious newspaper attack on his late father, actually intends to hit back at the gutter journalists who produced it.

This is, so far as I know, a unique event in modern history. The “newspaper” in question, which calls itself the Daily Mail, has a long and sordid history of personal attacks and political hysteria directed against any politician not of the extreme Right. Moderate and left-wing politicians have been in fear of it for decades,  hoping that if they kept out of its way it would not attack them. But of course appeasing a bully – well, you know the rest, even if the Daily Mail doesn’t.

What’s most interesting about Miliband’s intended text is its continuity with his speech to his own party conference a week ago, where he said that “the real test of leadership is not whether you stand up to the weak, that’s easy; it’s whether you stand up to the strong and know who to fight for.” In other eras, that would have been too obvious to be worth saying. But for the last generation, the operating principle for vaguely progressive or left-wing politicians has been to bear down on the poor, suck up to the rich, and hope that “newspapers” like the Daily Mail won’t bother to attack them. But what’s become clear in recent years is not just that this policy doesn’t work, but that it can’t work. No matter how far to the Right these politicians have slid, no matter how unpleasant and repressive are the policies they promote, it’s never enough. They are the enemy, and will continue to be treated as dangerous Marxists even if they attend a memorial service for General Franco.

So maybe the worm is starting to turn, or at least pivot, just a bit. Nothing lasts forever in politics, and the headlong gallop of the Left towards the Right, in pursuit of a Right that was becoming a parody of itself, was bound to stop sometime. It could be now, in which case the flash of backbone and determination shown by Mr Miliband this week could actually turn out to be quite important.