During the Second World War, civilians were implored to be cautious about what they said, less useful information be given to agents of the enemy. The other passenger in the railway carriage, far from being a housewife off to market, might be a German spy reporting back on unusual troop movements via a transmitter in her attic. Road signs were spun round, to confuse enemy agents parachuted into the countryside.
With an approaching election, parliamentary candidates are on a wartime footing. Prospective MP’s from the three major parties are being urged to take necessary precautions. We have been warned about entrapment. We are to assume that any stranger who accosts us has a mischievous plan in his mind, a microphone in his lapel, and an accomplice with a camera at his shoulder.
His mission – or possibly her mission - is to provoke the candidate into some injudicious remark, or entice him into some other indiscretion, which is then captured on tape for posterity. Within seconds, he will be on Youtube, causing major embarrassment to his party and useful raw material for his opponents. Someone posing as a post-graduate student doing a doctoral thesis on the general election might be an impostor from a rival party seeking to infiltrate one’s organisation.
This explains, why, when accosted by constituents on the station platform, I am looking closely for any wires, and then gazing over the shoulder for the accomplice with the camera. Only when the all clear has been given can normal social intercourse be resumed and even then, my replies are guarded.
But where might this all stop? Ben Macintyre has just written a book “Operation Mincemeat” about the Man who Never Was. Going back again to the Second World War, a corpse bearing secret documents designed to mislead the Germans was floated ashore to the Spanish coast in April 1943. This stratagem convinced Nazi espionage chiefs, and Hitler himself, that the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia, instead of the obvious target of Sicily.
It would be a dramatic ploy, and which political party will be brazen enough to adopt it? Could a corpse be purloined from a local morgue, equipped with the relevant membership cards and badges, and then planted with documents indicating on which marginal constituencies his party would attack, in order divert the troops of his opponents from the real targets? We will all be on the look out, over the next six weeks, for exploits such as this in the political campaign that is about to engulf us.