Parliamentary seats do not come much safer for the Tories than Skipton And Ripon, where incumbent Julian Smith can look forward to a long time at Westminster followed by retirement at a time of his choosing. The only blot on this particular landscape came when his predecessor Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott expired in office and a Liberal victory in the by-election embarrassed the Heath Government.
So not even the most basic and glaringly obvious stupidity will be sufficient to dislodge Smith, which will at least give commentators a rich vein of comedy to mine in the years to come. A taster of this came last week when he had the inspirational thought that the editor of the Guardian had not denied possessing family and personal information on employees of the security services.
Smith did not subject this gem to the most basic of reality checks. I can help him here. I also have not denied possessing family and personal information on security personnel. Nor, as far as I know, have any of my neighbours. Hey, if we add up all the folks across the UK who also haven’t denied having this information, there would be tens of millions. And it would prove precisely nothing.
But that this was a meaningless question did not enter in the world of Julian Smith, who took his utterly meaningless question into the House of Commons. “As part of its reporting of national security issues, The Guardian has not denied sending the detailed family and personal information of our security agents across borders” he observed during Business questions.
And nor has the Guardian’s editor denied being the reincarnation of Hannibal sodding Lecter, Fred West’s mystery accomplice in patio building, or that he has a secret lair somewhere in the Alps where he plots acts of terror and extortion while stroking the white cat on his lap. But the penny had still not dropped, and so Smith continued with his jolly clever question.
“That is illegal and it is threatening our agents and their families. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary to clarify that the law will be upheld, whether or not the organisation involved is hiding behind the fig leaf of journalism?” came the conclusion. It may be illegal, but then, so would the activities of Hannibal Lecter, an accomplice of Fred West, or Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
A Member of Parliament, who one might think would be occupied on constituency business much of the time, has latched on to a wild rumour with not even a grain of proof behind it, and trotted it out as a serious possibility in the Commons. And for this he thinks he’s done something not merely noteworthy, but downright brilliant. Well, Jules, have I got news for you. That was a straightforward act of basic stupidity.
Fortunately for him, he’s unlikely to get voted out for it, so that’s all right, then.