Denis MacShane was Minister for Europe under Tony Blair. He brought a wider and more cultured vision and experience to that role than many politicians and activists ever get near, at least in this country. For instance, he translated into English a Brecht poem for “Poems on the Underground”. He also responded positively to a slightly grandiose letter from me in 2003, suggesting that the project I run called “Poems for…” could play a role in connecting people and improving understanding across Europe. Ten poems-posters resulted, one from each of the countries joining the EU at the time. Each poem had a good English translation printed alongside. The Arts Council helped the FCO fund the venture and the poet Fiona Sampson helped me select the poems. At an FCO open day in 2004, enlargements of the posters were displayed along two sides of Durbar Court at King Charles Street, and looked thoroughly at home there. Weeks previously, Macshane had lost his daughter Clare Barnes. She was sky diving over Melbourne in Australia when her parachute failed to open. As I understand it, MacShane was away for a week to attend to the funeral. Then he was back at his desk. Ministers have to keep running. I believe there has been further family loss and grief since.
Denis MacShane was recently found guilty of malpractice in the claiming of his expenses and has resigned from his job as MP.
These are my thoughts :
1/ He was wrong to act as he did with regard to the claims.
2/ The good he has done across a wide spectrum of activity over a period of years far far outweighs the ill he did over the claims.
3/ His daughter’s death, and other family travails which possibly resulted from that, could and should have been seen and taken into account as a mitigating circumstance. It is a cause of serious concern that they were not. What are we becoming ? At whose hands ? What are we allowing of ourselves ?
4/ I forced myself to go through the string of reader comments that followed the online announcement of his resignation, either on guardianunlimited or in The Independent, I can’t remember which. I found those comments disgusting and repellant and a great deal more indicative of human failure than any fault MacShane committed. Old women knitting gleefully and malevolently as a good head rolled. The lesser squealing with excitement as a greater was pulled down.
Here is a poem I wrote, sooner after hearing of his daughter’s death. Suddenly – Cut…
In Praise of Sky Diving
dedicated to Clare Barnes and her family
I have raced the Earth as it curves
into the dark.
I have made light
of Eternity. Suddenly – Cut :
and all the Earth can be
now is breaker of my fall.
So too the Greeks of saga
died in their youth
from marvellous height.