Paul Dacre asks Guardian readers: 'What is worse - to criticise the views of a Marxist, or put British lives at risk?'

Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre may have declined to be interviewed over the furore prompted by an article in his paper two weeks ago attacking Ed Miliband's father, but on Saturday he responded to critics via an article in The Guardian.

He used the piece to renew his attack on a paper which he last week described as "lethally irresponsible" in a leader column and to say that criticism of the Ralph Miliband piece was just axe-grinding by left-wingers on The Guardian and BBC who don't like the Daily Mail.

Admitting that the "man who hated Britain" headline was controversial, Dacre added: "popular newspapers have a long tradition of using provocative headlines to grab readers' attention. In isolation that headline may indeed seem over the top, but read in conjunction with the article we believed it was justifiable."

Dacre claimed coverage of the row was not about the original article but "a full-scale war by the BBC and the left against the paper that is their most vocal critic".

And attacking The Guardian's readers in the its own pages, he said: "The metropolitan classes, of course, despise our readers with their dreams (mostly unfulfilled) of a decent education and health service they can trust, their belief in the family, patriotism, self-reliance, and their over-riding suspicion of the state and the People Who Know Best.

"These people mock our readers' scepticism over the European Union and a human rights court that seems to care more about the criminal than the victim. They scoff at our readers who, while tolerant, fret that the country's schools and hospitals can't cope with mass immigration.

"In other words, these people sneer at the decent working Britons – I'd argue they are the backbone of this country – they constantly profess to be concerned about.

"The truth is that there is an unpleasant intellectual snobbery about the Mail in leftish circles, for whom the word 'suburban' is an obscenity. They simply cannot comprehend how a paper that opposes the mindset they hold dear can be so successful and so loved by its millions of readers"

Concluding with a final jab at The Guardian over its publication of leaked secret information about British spying methods, he said: "I ask fair readers, what is worse: to criticise the views of a Marxist thinker, whose ideology is anathema to most and who had huge influence on the man who could one day control our security forces … or to put British lives at risk by helping terrorists?"

Unsurprisingly, the piece has prompted a furious response from Guardian readers – with more than 3,700 commenting on the online version of it.

Read Paul Dacre's Guardian piece here.

As one reader wrote on the Guardian letters page today: "Mr Dacre is a newspaper editor, not a god who can look into the minds of all of us suburbanites! He has no right to generalise, nor to presume what he can't possibly know. Are Guardian readers and Labour voters such as my husband and me any less "ordinary people" than readers of the Daily Mail?"?

Dacre's attacks on The Guardian and BBC are a return to a theme he touched on in his 2007 Hugh Cudlipp lecture when he attacked the "subsidariat" media.

He said: "The Guardian's Scott Trust is a magnificent construct which allows for some gloriously elevated journalism, but let's not beat about the bush – subsidised papers are by definition unable to survive in a free market. Their journalism and values – invariably liberal, metropolitan and politically correct, and I include the pinkish Times here, don't connect with sufficient readers to be commercially viable."

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