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In Praise of Denis MacShane, Modern Politics' Tragic Hero

24/12/2013 17:21 GMT | Updated 23/02/2014 10:59 GMT

It seems fitting that Denis MacShane's sentencing should provide the final, ignominious act to the expenses scandal.

That it will not be is testament to the short-sightedness of a cowed body politic; consumed by fear and self-loathing, rather than wisdom and foresight, into cynical faux-revulsion towards the IPSA's reasoned, and evidenced, commission on parliamentary pay and conditions.

Objectively and festively, this seems mean spirited and wrong. When parliamentarians succumb to the whims of reactionary below the line commentators, not one editorial leaps to provide praise and encouragement.

'Politicians have messed up so many things that it is no surprise to see them messing up setting their own pay', the Express said. MPs were 'deeply disingenuous', 'blustering' and 'tripping over themselves' over their rejection of a pay rise, according to the Mail.

Yet it was the tabloid's reaction, along with senior Tory MPs, to Vince Cable's evocation of Enoch Powell in bemoaning the current immigration panic that was inconsistent and fragmented- both accepting the negative connotations of Powell, while pursuing his modern equivalent.

It also showed why Denis MacShane will be missed in public office- an increasingly, and worryingly, rare voice espousing the merits of the European project. Publications and politicians rightly bristle at the suggestion their politics condones racism and small-minded bigotry; yet Farage says Bulgarians and Romanians want to move to a "civilised country", and promises "a Romanian crime epidemic, a factor that nobody dares to talk about".

Cable was right to condemn this language as forcefully as Farage makes his case. However what all this serves to do is highlight the monolithic state of the debate, and the lack of fervently unashamed pro-immigration and pro-Europe voices in parliament; despite clear evidence that shows positive mutual benefit to continued immigration, and EU membership.

It is a shame the Express and the Mail will be so subsumed by the fact that it is windy and rainy today to properly mark the demise of a political career that runs counter to every belief they hold dear. A ferocious European, MacShane's unrelentingly independent-mindedness led him to continually battle against the politics of fear and isolationism. His was a rare voice in berating European isolation on geo-political grounds- "When you read in the New York Times 'Britain is isolated', that frightens me".

It is a nagging fear that should weigh into the psyche of MPs a great deal more than it currently does. Particularly MPs ontologically inclined to hold dear the interests of business, of government competence and- ultimately- the maintenance of peace and order through robust, democratic institutions.

Yet John Rentoul's recent, and perhaps somewhat contrarian, suggestion - that Ukip provide a much needed political counter-point on their core issues - does not hold true, and the truth is that MacShane's was a fairly lone voice in favour of the European project.

Perhaps paradoxically, it was the Conservative philosopher Edmund Burke, beloved on Tory benches, who holds a continued resonance on the importance of democratic debate, and facts, when creating public policy on issues- even those as difficult to cofront as Europe and immigration.

'Government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?'

The Daily Mail's Kensington offices are three, rather than three hundred, miles from the palace of Westminster. But you can kind of see his point.