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30 Ιανουάριος 2019

Prison Diaries review – Denis MacShane's account of life behind bars

Though the former MP still seems in denial about his expenses fiddle, his observations of the futility of jail are poignant
Former British Labour Party MP Denis Mac

 'I am the author of my own misfortune': Denis MacShane arriving at the Old Bailey for sentencing, December 2013. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

Although I found Denis MacShane an assiduous and engaging colleague with a track record of support for many good causes, he has always lived dangerously. His career as a journalist and later as an MP and Foreign Office minister is a series of well-documented scrapes, some of which landed him in serious trouble.

I first came across him more than 30 years ago when we were both subeditors in the newsroom of the BBC World Service. He had been exiled there from BBC Radio in the West Midlands, where he had been a producer until an unfortunate incident led to his dismissal. One day, during a dull phone-in, he posed as a member of the public, calling former home secretary Reginald Maudling a crook. Maudling, needless to say, threatened to sue.

The event that sadly ended his parliamentary career and led to his imprisonment was an expenses fiddle. Using notepaper headed with the name of a front organisation (the "European Policy Institute") and what he called "a nom de plume", he submitted invoices to himself, the proceeds of which he used to fund his extracurricular European activities. This led, in due course, to his being charged with false accounting. In a nutshell, fraud. Although on the opening page – and at intervals throughout – he appears remorseful ("I can only blame myself… I am the author of my own misfortunes"), it soon becomes apparent that he is still in denial.


Once he has decided to accept his fate and get on with his sentence, MacShane is at his best. Day after day of the six weeks he served, he documents the banality and pointlessness of prison life, the petty humiliations, the surly indifference of many of the prison officers and the overwhelming incompetence of the system as a whole. Rehabilitation, he finds, is a low, almost nonexistent priority. Indeed, from this account, it is hard to see how anyone could emerge a better person than they went in. Of his fellow prisoners he speaks highly. "I found only warmth, friendship and shared solidarity… There was a sense of right and wrong, the difference between truth and mendacity and a willingness to admit mistakes."

For reasons that are unclear, unlike other imprisoned politicians, MacShane is sent first to the notorious Belmarsh, where he finds himself mixing with armed robbers and murderers, including Soho nail bomber David Copeland, serving a 50-year sentence. Much of his time in Belmarsh is spent banged up alone, watching television. The food is bland and stodgy. He is not allowed access to his books. The prison library is just about impenetrable. "You're in prison, get used to it," is the standard reply to his occasional protests. Later, in Brixton, life looks up slightly. He gains access to the gym and a handful of his books and finds himself sharing a cell with Douggie, an affable Edinburgh businessman serving time for a VAT fraud who has access to a supply of decent food.

As others before have noted, our prisons are full of people who ought not to be there or whose debt to society might have been better repaid by a non-custodial sentence. Many remain incarcerated, at considerable public expense, beyond their "tag" date because the system is incapable of processing them. "What the judge says has nothing to do with us, we'll decide when you're released," is the response to MacShane's inquiry as to when he's likely to be freed.

There is a poignant moment at the end. As he is waiting to be released back to a comfortable home, a loving family and welcoming friends, MacShane talks to the man in front of him, a minor drug dealer, "pasty-faced and looking sick and nervous at the prospect of release". "'My dad died when I was 10, me mum jumped off London Bridge when I was 18… Now I'll get £46, plus £8 for a tube fare and a telephone number of a homeless hostel. I have no family, nowhere to go. I don't know what I'll do.'" "I know what he'll do," says MacShane. "He'll be back."


Independent: Ακατανόητη η υποστήριξη Τσίπρα στον Μαδούρο, σε μια χούντα

O Αλ. Τσίπρας με τον Νικολάς Μαδούρο στο περιθώριο συνόδου του ΟΗΕ το 2015 / Φωτογραφία αρχείου: EUROKINISSIO Αλ. Τσίπρας με τον Νικολάς Μαδούρο στο περιθώριο συνόδου του ΟΗΕ το 2015 / Φωτογραφία αρχείου: EUROKINISSI

Δριμεία επίθεση στην απόφαση της κυβέρνησης του Αλέξη Τσίπρα να στηρίξει τον Νικολάς Μαδούρο εξαπολύει ο Independent.

«Τι στο καλό συνέβη στην ελληνική παράδοση αλληλεγγύης στη δημοκρατία και τα ανθρώπινα δικαιώματα; Γιατί η Ελλάδα, μια ευρωπαϊκή χώρα που έζησε από το 1967 έως το 1974 υπό μια αχρεία, ωμή, διεφθαρμένη, υποστηριζόμενη από τη δεξιά στρατιωτική χούντα, στέλνει μήνυμα υποστήριξης σε μια αχρεία, διεφθαρμένη, υποστηριζόμενη από τον στρατό δικτατορία στη Βενεζουέλα;», διερωτάται ο Ντένις ΜακΣέιν, πρώην υπουργός Ευρωπαϊκών και Λατινοαμερικανικών Υποθέσεων στην κυβέρνηση Μπλερ, που αρθρογροαφεί για ευρωπαϊκά θέματα στη βρετανική εφημερίδα.

Παραθέτει, δε, δηλώσεις του Χιλιανού αριστερού πολιτικού Πέδρο Φελίπε Ραμίρεζ (που έζησε εξόριστος στη Βενεζουέλα και διετέλεσε από το 2014 έως το 2018 πρεσβευτής της χώρας του στο Καράκας) για τον Μαδούρο, ο οποίος, όπως λέει, δεν έχει καμία σχέση με την κληρονομιά του Ούγκο Τσάβες: «Εγώ παραμένω τσαβίστα, αλλά το καθεστώς Μαδούρο δεν έχει καμία σχέση με τον τσαβισμό. Είναι η δικτατορία μιας ομάδας που πήρε τον έλεγχο του κράτους για τα δικά της προσωπικά οφέλη. Κατέστρεψαν τη χώρα, δημιούργησαν πείνα και το μεγαλύτερο κύμα εξόδου που γνώρισε ποτέ η Νότια Αμερική».

Ο αρθρογράφος υποστηρίζει ότι δεξιές και αριστερές κυβερνήσεις, όπως του λαϊκιστή Κάρλος Άντες Πέρες τη δεκαετία του 1980 και μετά του Ούγκο Τσάβες, «που εξελίχθηκε σε δημαγωγό», πρόσφεραν κάκιστες υπηρεσίες στη Βενεζουέλα: «Όπως η Σαουδική Αραβία και άλλες πετρελαϊκές δικτατορίες, η Βενεζουέλα υποφέρει από τη σύγχρονη κατάρα τού να είναι πολύ πλούσια για το δικό της συμφέρον. Δεν είναι τυχαίο ότι η Τουρκία και η Ρωσία -όπου οι στρατηγοί των ενόπλων δυνάμεων και των σωμάτων ασφαλείας έγιναν πλούσιοι με αντάλλαγμα την υποστήριξη προς έναν αυταρχικό πρόεδρο- έσπευσαν δυναμικά στο πλευρό του Μαδούρο και κατά του λαού της Βενεζουέλας», γράφει.

Πηγή: Independent: Ακατανόητη η υποστήριξη Τσίπρα στον Μαδούρο, σε μια χούντα | iefimerida.gr