International espionage: what a glamorous life it all must seem. You join the service, hoping to match wits with Her Majesty's foes, full of dreams of Bond-like action sequences and Le Carré-esque intrigue. And instead you end up having to write to Labour MPs, begging them to stop sending you so many irrelevant letters for their own political purposes.
For Jonathan Evans, the former Director-General of MI5, that is indeed the sad fate that has befallen him. Having held the post of Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life since 2018, Lord Evans has been bombarded in recent months with a flurry of letters from Labour shadow ministers, urging him to probe dastardly Tory MPs for various indiscretions.
Now though, it appears the long-suffering spook has had enough. In a seething letter, published today, Evans has responded to another such request for an inquiry into Priti Patel by Nick Thomas-Symonds, who as shadow Home Secretary, presumably aspires to one day have responsibility for the Secret Service which Evans once led.
Thomas-Symonds is, of course, something of the invisible man on Labour's frontbench. Tasked with holding the accident-prone Patel to account, he so far has failed to do much of that in his 18 months in the role, despite the many, many open goals gifted to the Opposition by the generously dysfunctional Home Office.
Instead Thomas-Symonds – a man best known for his obscurity – has preferred the art of letter-writing, firing off correspondence faster than Angela Rayner's £1,440 folding machine. Demanding inquiries, raising questions, the shadow minister for missives appears to be more of a threat to the nation's trees than fungal disease on steroids.
And it is one such letter which has today provoked Evans' ire. The Committee chair has written to Thomas-Symonds to point out that, contrary to what the Shadow Home Secretary believes: 'My committee does not have a remit to look at individual cases' – something which the peer has previously pointed out both 'in my reply to your letter of 19 November 2020' and during 'a number of [other] times in correspondence with the Labour Party during the past year.'
He continues, 'we have not, as you state in your letter, issued any findings that the Home Secretary had broken the Ministerial Code,' suggesting instead that Thomas-Symonds has confused him with the Ministerial Adviser on Ministers' Interests, an entirely different post altogether. He concludes drily: 'you may find it helpful if your office spoke to our secretariat in advance of sending letters to the media to ensure they are addressed to the appropriate body.' Ouch.
Let's hope Thomas-Symonds has time to brush up before his next assignment with the ex MI5 chief.