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Why Jeremy Corbyn should say why he met Czech diplomat

Credit: PA

There is zero chance of the foreign affairs committee, chaired by Tom Tugendhat, agreeing to Tory MPs' requests to interview Jeremy Corbyn about his meetings with a Czech spy in the 1980's.

But this is not because Tugendhat and his fellow MPs assess Corbyn's chats with Jan Sarkocy as unimportant.

It's simply that framing such an interview in a way that makes it relevant to the UK's foreign relations today would be impossible. Apart from anything else, Czechoslovakia no longer exists as a unitary state, and - to state the bloomin' obvious - the Berlin Wall is no more.

But it is not mad or a hideous smear for MPs and the press to ask Corbyn to account for why he felt comfortable meeting someone he apparently thought was a diplomat, and what he might have discussed with him.

In case you've forgotten, because it was such a long time ago, no country behind the Iron Curtain was an ally. And it isn't a defence of Corbyn to state (accurately of course) that as a relatively new, maverick and left-wing Labour MP he knew no state secrets.

The meeting took place in the 1980's. Credit: PA

The point is that spies like Sarkocy operated - and operate - much as I would do as a journalist. We talk to backbenchers because they know stuff about colleagues and what's going on, and although such gossip may in itself seem trivial, it can be used to prize information from others or may be a piece of an interesting jigsaw.

It doesn't really matter that Corbyn may have thought that the chats lacked consequence. What probably matters more is that Sarkocy thought they were worth having.

None of which is to say that any of this makes Corbyn unfit as Labour leader or a possible future Labour leader.

It may have been rational for him to reach out into the Eastern Bloc, at a time when the Cold War was thawing.

But it is reasonable to ask him, as a politician who now seeks to govern rather than simply campaign, whether he still thinks his judgement in meeting Sarkocy was correct.