by Marc Glendening
Despite having been reported to the police by Parliamentary authorities over allegations that he has abused his expenses, Denis MacShane MP is not keeping a low profile politically.
Those of us who have observed, and been subjected to, him over the years would expect nothing less. He is, in so many ways, a figure of great amusement yet the low political tactics he employs are worth becoming familiar with in order to better counter them.
He was in characteristic mud-slinging form on Radio 4's Start The Week on May 9th, when up against People's Pledge Advisory Council member Ruth Lea.
Ruth had introduced the People's Pledge and explained the case for an EU referendum to Andrew Marr. Not content with simply arguing against our right to be consulted on EU membership, Denis proceeded at every opportunity to refer to referendums as 'plebiscites'.
This was a classic MacShaneism; a crude attempt to smear any opposing EU-related view with the stench of fascism, the far-right, and, somewhat ironically perhaps in this context, political authoritarianism.
The word plebicite is now exclusively associated with the ways in which Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler attempted to give their totalitarian regimes and projects the veneer of legitimacy by holding rigged tests of public opinion. Plebiscites were no more democratic than 'elections' in one party states or Zimbabwe and Iran.
In invoking this highly-charged historical concept MacShane was doing what he does best; playing the person, not the ball. It was the classic Blairite tactic of trying to distract those listening from the actual content of your opponent's arguments and associate them instead with deeply unattractive and sinister imagery.
In this way, MacShane was also engaging in the post-modernist tactic of deconstruction; taking a fundamental truth and deliberately subverting it. He wanted to turn the tables on Ruth Lea by substituting in the listener's mind her argument for greater democracy with the insinuation that those who advocate an EU referendum are really advancing an anti-democratic position.
At the Fabian Society conference on Europe earlier this year when an opposing speaker made an entirely factual and non-jingoistic reference to Britain's traditionally liberal system of law, MacShane interupted his remarks by boisterously and grotesquely breaking into a loud rendition of Land of Hope and Glory, complete with exaggerated conducting gestures.
He assumed, being in playground bully mode, that the audience, who were largely with him on the EU issue, would burst into hysterical laughter and join in the mockery of the other speaker. Instead, he was greeted by an embarrassed and richly deserved silence.
He is a past master of this sort of disingenuous, but dangerous nonsense. For years he has accused EU-critics of being 'xenophobes', 'little Englanders' and of the 'far-right'. When he has been challenged to name names - to have the courage to apply these cowardly labels to the likes of Tony Benn, Bob Crowe, Kate Hoey, John Cryer, Kelvin Hopkins, Gisela Stuart and the legion of other left EU-sceptics - he fails to do so and hides away.
Again, tres post-modern and Third Way to simply refuse to acknowledge and confront inconvenient contradictions head on; to put up or shut up.
There are honourable believers in the goal of a politically united Europe. People such as Mark Littlewood, John Stevens, Dr Stephen Haseler and Richard Laming. They start from first principles and try to convince others on the basis of intellectual content.
Dirty Den, however, prefers instead to go down a road similar to that travelled in the 1950s by the communist-baiting and smearing notorious Senator McCarthy in relation to anybody who was on the centre-left. For MacShane, substitute 'reds under the bed' with 'xenophobes in the closet' or wherever he thinks EU-critics reside.
Denis, when will you have the courage to debate the EU and to take on the idea of an EU referendum without recourse to evoking the memory of fascism?
written by Marc Glendening