Alastair Campbell [l] and Paul Dacre [Wikipedia/network23.org]
The bitter row between Ed Miliband and the Daily Mail turned into a bloody Rumble in the Jungle last night as Labour's former spin chief Alastair Campbell and the Mail's deputy Editor Jon Steafel drummed their chests, mock-charged each other and ripped down surrounding vegetation in a bid to prove who was the dominant silverback.
The extraordinary performance on the BBC's normally sedate Newsnight programme saw Campbell at his most hectoring, aggressive and challenging, apparently doing his best to live up to his image as the real Malcolm Tucker, The Thick of It's threatening, foul-mouthed spin doctor.
He constantly demanded that Steafel admit he did not agree with the offending piece and that it was all the work of Campbell's own hate figure, Mail editor Paul Dacre who, he said, presented "the worst of values as the best".
Steafel, the substitute for the notoriously camera-shy Dacre, attempted to show a calm, reasonable yet unbending face. He was the wall into which Campbell's bellowing bulldozer would crash, he hoped.
He refused to be wound up by Campbell's claim his boss was a "coward and a bully" but often struggled to get a word in.
And under the tsunami of aggression from Campbell, it was Steafel who blinked, admitting the Mail Online's photo of Miliband Snr's tombstone over the words "grave socialist" had been "an error of judgement" and had been removed (pity the Mail employee or ex-employee who was responsible for that caption).
He attempted to turn the tables, reminding Campbell of his own behaviour as a "bullying" spin doctor and he flatly refused to agree the headline stating Miliband's Marxist father, Ralph, "hated Britain" was wrong.
Steafel's admission that the photo had been an error of judgment inevitably led to a demand from Labour for an apology.
That would represent the sort of climbdown that Dacre just does not do and the paper's reaction to the latest escalation saw it printing more of the same. No surprise there.
There was a danger in this battle of the big beasts. Campbell came close to overdoing it and, as a result, reminding viewers of the previous Labour government and its attempts to control the media agenda.
And the Mail may yet find it is subjected to a public backlash against its highly personal campaign. Although, it must be said, if one newspaper knows its readership and understands its concerns and even prejudices, then it is the Daily Mail.
And it has just been revealed that Paul Dacre's contract as editor has been renewed for another year - although it is likely that happened before this row - so there is a good chance he will be steering the paper through the next election.
And that, of course, is the over-riding concern for Ed Miliband that, unless he puts down a marker now, there will be plenty more of this sort of coverage to come.
This article is copyrighted by IBTimes.co.uk, the business news leader
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