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Dr Denis MacShane

(Elected 2004)

Labour’s Minister for Europe, Dr Denis MacShane, completed a PhD in International Economics at Birkbeck in 1990. With responsibility for issues on Europe and economic policy, he says that part of his role is to communicate European issues in a way that ‘drains the anti-European poison from the British political system’.

‘It is right that we have a full national debate on the European question, first in parliament and then involving all the people,’ he says.

‘I am happy to nail my colours to the mast. I believe that Britain’s future will only be safeguarded by being in Europe and helping to run Europe, and I look forward to making this case in every forum available for the rest of my active political life.’

Dr MacShane chose Birkbeck for his part-time PhD because he ‘wanted to write a serious study across three or four countries and three languages. Only Birkbeck had the width of experience to accommodate such a research project.’

‘It is a great honour to become a Fellow of Birkbeck because the College delivers more intellectual and teaching value than any other part of Britain’s academic set-up. Birkbeck has been home to two of the most important politically engaged academics of my lifetime – Ben Pimlott and Paul Hirst – and to sit as an Honorary Fellow where they sat is a way of remembering their contribution.’

Saying that his favourite memory of his Birkbeck days is ‘the coffee and the talk,’ he adds: ‘Most of my contact was with the gang at 10 Gower Street in the School of Politics and Sociology – with Professors Ben Pimlott and Paul Hirst, and others. The political discussion during Labour’s lost decade of the 1980s showed that my party would come back, and thanks to people like Ben Pimlott, we did.’

In the 1980s he was an international trade union official supporting pro-democracy movements in Poland, South Africa, Brazil and South Korea. This work followed an eight-year stint as a BBC producer and a year as President of the National Union of Journalists (1978–1979).

Following two years as the Director of the European Policy Institute, he was elected Labour MP for Rotherham in 1994, and was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in June 2001, becoming Minister for Europe in 2002.

Dr MacShane followed Ben Pimlott as Chair of the Fabian Society Executive. He writes regularly for national newspapers and political journals and is the author of several books on international politics.

He says he left Birkbeck with ‘a great sense of accomplishment. I showed to myself that I could master a serious intellectual project. I glided through ‘A’ Levels and Oxford and only really got down to hard research thanks to Birkbeck. To have the chance as an adult to do a university degree is a marvellous British invention, and Birkbeck is very special.’