I made a grievous mistake and have let down Rotherham

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From: Denis MacShane, Former Labour MP for Rotherham.

HOW do I say sorry? Rotherham has been such an important part of my life and I have let this wonderful town, its terrific people and my constituency down so very badly. I accept fully the responsibility for my actions. The waters close over and my Parliamentary life is at an end (Yorkshire Post, November 3).

Why? That I was at grievous fault there can be no doubt. There is no new information or facts since the newspapers, including the Yorkshire Post, published all the details in June 2009, along with what other MPs of that era had done. I did not flip my London home and make a huge personal profit. I did not pay a partner or a child £40,000. My house has not changed or been improved using taxpayers’ money. I did not claim thousands under the so-called petty cash heading without receipts.

I stupidly, madly thought the costs of my work in Europe as the Prime Minister’s personal envoy – or for my own networking to make me fully informed as one of Parliament’s experts on Europe – could be reimbursed by Parliamentary expenses.

The way I did it, using an institute set up 20 years ago which published reports and books by trade union leaders, was wholly improper. I long ago paid the money back and even the Parliamentary complaints system which condemned me after a process initiated by one letter from the BNP accepts there was no personal gain. The police investigated every claim I had made, interviewing people far and wide including at length myself, and decided to close the case.

As a friend, a former mine worker living on East Dene, wrote to me: “I cannot condone but I do not condemn.” He is too generous. I do condemn myself for stupidity if not cupidity and for making Rotherham’s MP briefly a negative national news item.

I cannot convey how much I will miss Rotherham. I am not from South Yorkshire but the people took me into their bonds of friendship and made my young family – including Benjamin born two months after my election in 1994 – feel very much at home.

When my daughter was killed 10 years later in a sky-diving accident, Rotherham was there even if that grief made me lose judgment on filling in expense forms at the end of an 18-hour day. My house in Rotherham is the one I have ever lived in the longest during a varied moving life and my neighbours the best you could ever meet. I loved training for marathons to raise money for Rotherham charities by running through Canklow Woods and around Herringthorpe Valley Park a few times. I had the privilege of going to Wembley with the Millers and watch our rugby players win promotion to top class rugby. My children played hide and seek in the poppy fields behind Ulley Country Park and the fresh food bought at the market was the best in England.

I hoped I helped as an MP – campaigning to keep steel jobs alive and speak for Rotherham in different countries. My office staff over the years have been wonderful. Not everything I did suited everyone. Speaking against racism or the odious politics of the English Defence League or BNP annoyed some while my many wonderful Muslim friends queried whether my campaign against anti-semitism or my confronting publicly the problems raised by gangs grooming young white girls went too far.

I have been a life-long trade unionist and working with unions and seeing close-up the long hours and hard work our dedicated councillors put in to serve their constituents underlined the importance and value of public service. Thanks to the many constituents who sent messages saying “thank you” after I had helped them. Thanks to faiths of Rotherham. I was glad to be at the inauguration of the new St Bede’s by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor a few weeks ago and pleased to be able to present to each mosque in Rotherham a framed papyrus inscription from the Holy Koran. Thank to the voluntary organisations and the firms in the Chamber of Commerce for all their good work.

Now I bid farewell. I am confident the next Labour MP in Rotherham will serve the community well as do John Healey and our fine MEP, Linda McAvan. In the brief two-and-a-half years of this Government, we have seen the re-emergence of a Two Nation Britain with the North being disadvantaged to the favour of the Tory and Lib Dem South. The re-election of a One Nation Labour government is more necessary than ever.

I finish by apologising from the bottom of my heart for the damage I have done, I hope only temporarily, to the good name of Rotherham, through my folly and mistakes.

I will stay away and out of politics now but I hope when today’s headlines die down and we have a new Labour MP I can come back and salute old and dear friends.