The first and most important point to begin with about Christopher Chope is that the boilerplate defence of Christopher Chope, as used by Christopher Chope on the regular occasion Christopher Chope embarrasses himself in public, is that it is fundamentally untrue.
Today, he rose in the House of Commons to object to an anti-female genital mutilation bill, just as he rose last year to throw out a proposed ban on upskirting.
Then, as now, he claims his objection is to the “parliamentary procedure” and the “lack of proper scrutiny”, not the legislation itself.
It is unfortunate in the extreme that this argument does about as well under the scrutiny of which Mr Chope is so fond, as Winona Ryder’s shoplifting spree that she once attributed to “researching a role”.
First of all, there’s the fact that this bill had already been through several stages of legislative scrutiny. Then there’s the fact that had he allowed it to pass, it would have been through several more, of far more detail, before perhaps becoming law.
Secondly, there’s the unfortunate fact that in 2009 Mr Chope once used the very same methods, namely a private member’s bill, to bring through legislation that would allow companies to opt out of paying the minimum wage.
Then we move on to 2016, and one bill that the now 71-year-old Mr Chope did mysteriously allow to pass in this fashion. It concerned the safeguarding of a pot of public money to be paid to ex-MPs.
Which begs the question: in favour of female genital mutilation? In favour of, to pick another example, Alan Turing not being pardoned? That would be quite the claim, but if you call him up and ask him, as The Independent has done, what you will find is that he puts the phone down on you. So all you’re left with to go on is the available public evidence of what Mr Chope objects to and what he does not, and his very deliberate choices to put so much of it out there.
It’s also worth mentioning that not so long ago, when the public relations heads of the big tech companies came to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Christopher Chope used all of his questions to admonish the lady from Twitter about why a Christopher Chope parody account had not been taken down. And good for him. Why should Christopher Chope have to suffer that kind of indignity for a second longer than necessary? Victims of upskirting and FGM can wait for another day. For the “proper processes”. Unless they happen to be an MP, and a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee of course, then they can abuse them all they like.
You may choose to accept his reasoning that the procedures are broken. If he’s allowed to do it, then why shouldn’t he? It’s the same argument applied with some justification to tax avoidance. Should Jimmy Carr be hated for paying an accountant to minimise his tax bill? Should Amazon? It is up to the authorities to make it impossible for them to do so. It is up to the House of Commons to reform itself, to make this thing impossible, and stop wasting such vast amounts of public time and money.
But there is a subtle difference. Tax avoiders don’t carry the word “honourable” in their titles. Not many of them, anyway. There is no centuries-old custom imploring them to be their best selves, and not just an ambulant embarrassment, stealing a cushy living.
The truth though is a little more boring. The tiny handful of MPs, of which Chope is one, that gather on the rare occasions that the House of Commons sit on Fridays, to throw out legislation they personally object to, have gained a cult status in Westminster.
And they have gained a cult status for it precisely because they have never done anything else.
Christopher Chope’s contribution to public life does not rise above that of a ringtone. Were somebody allowed to leave a mobile phone on speaker-setting on the backbench of the House of Commons, that was programmed to shout “object” four or five times every few Fridays, there would be no use for Christopher Chope at all.
In 32 years in the House of Commons, Mr Chope’s sole ministerial contribution has been a very brief time as parliamentary-under-secretary of state in the department of transport, a department which, you may know, you only have to be Chris Grayling to run.
So before you get too angry, try to remember what’s really going on here, which is the pitiful cry for attention of a very small man, risen to an incredibly low height. Still, his time will be up soon. And as Oscar Wilde never quite said, there’s only one thing worse than being widely ridiculed and universally loathed.
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