What follows is a true story. It is also a parable. But its main character is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. As mention of them normally ensures deep sleep, I should state immediately that what follows is about all our politicians and not just about the second-rater who leads our third party.
Before the summer, Nick Clegg was invited to give the annual lecture to the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism. He treated his audience to a supremely empty speech in which he put his career on the line by coming out strongly against Nazism and fascists. Grateful as we were to hear that the LibDem leader was not a supporter of Hitler, it struck me that we might expect more. Having rather expected him to do this, I came prepared.
After Clegg's peroration, there was an opportunity for questions, so I got in first. I expressed my belief that fighting anti-Semitism should, like charity, begin at home and therefore what was he, Clegg, going to do about the conspicuous presence on the LibDem benches in the House of Lords of Baroness Tonge?
For those lucky enough not to know of her, Jenny Tonge is most famous for saying in 2004 of suicide murderers who blow up Israelis, "If I had to live in that situation — and I say that advisedly — I might just consider becoming one myself."
Though this statement and the resulting outcry got her booted off the LibDem front bench it also — as these things do — got her kicked upstairs into the Lords. Thus she became Baroness "Boom" Tonge. And she has taken her new role seriously — becoming, against some competition, perhaps the shrillest anti-Israeli member of our degraded upper house. For instance, in 2006 she entered classic Der Stürmer territory, saying: "The pro-Israel lobby has got its grips on the Western world, its financial grips. I think they have probably got a certain grip on our party." The idea that anyone has a grip on the LibDems would certainly surprise its membership.
Back at our meeting, I asked Clegg to address the issue of Jihad Jenny. He assured me that if she said anything like that on his watch she would be in serious trouble. He even did those determined hand-gestures he shares with David Cameron to show that this was something to which he was really, passionately committed.