Like all hacks, I sometimes wonder whether I should just screw my self-esteem, do a Jonathan Freedland and start writing trashy novels for cash. As I fill the pages with every cliché, I can at least console myself by thinking of the wonderful piles of lucre about to come my way.
Were I to make this career change, my first ‘shocker’ would involve a Chinese spy called Fang Fang. She would be a sexy, enormously seductive femme fatale. As she works her way through the American political scene, she would entrap male members of Congress with startling ease, finding out juicy secrets along the way which she then reports back to Beijing.
Alas, I would soon be done for plagiarism, because that plot has already been written. It happened in the 2010s when Fang Fang (otherwise known as Christine Fang) managed to get close to a number of US legislators. And when I say close, I do not mean it metaphorically. At least two mayors in the Midwest fell into her sinuous arms. So, reportedly, did the Democrat congressman Eric Swalwell, who was sitting on the House Committee for Homeland Security at the time (a position he bafflingly then was re-appointed to). Naturally, the headlines wrote themselves. Or they would have done if the US press had any sense of fun. Most of it is far too po-faced to have the kind of enjoyment our headline writers would have had about ‘Chinese penetration’ and the like.
As it happens, our own China ‘spy’ story is a more mundane affair. This week we learned that two people – one of them a researcher who worked in parliament – have been arrested for allegedly spying for China.