Lord Stoddart of Swindon's exhaustive 920-page report: "Global Britain, Business for Sterling" has been completely ignored, according to recent data. The survey, carried out by Reuters, discovered that the release of the report, six years in the making, has been met with something slightly short of apathy. "Eh?", "why?" and a long shake of the head were just three of the various responses I received in Westminster on mentioning the document, too large for one man to carry.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon is no stranger to futile causes. As a young man he resigned from almost every government post he held over minute points of principle, and has the current record for the quickest self-dismissal at 27 minutes, storming out of the treasury upon discovering German-made paper clips on his desk, something he described as "damned near treasonable". He was thenceforth shelved to the House of Lords where his rambling non-sequiturs would fit the norm. Guarantees of on-site medical care and board-game visits from sixth-form volunteers ensured his eventual reluctant consent. From there, in 1985 he wasted weeks opposing the Single European Act; while in 1992, John Major's desire to sign the Maastricht treaty led Stoddart to form the Anti-Maastricht Alliance, the Maastricht Counter-Summit, the European anti-Maastricht Alliance, and the all-party Maastricht Study Group. This painstaking research, funded privately, led ultimately to an enormous presentation the day before the Commons debate, which was attended by cleaning staff and two pigeons, who left during the speech.
In 1994 he became Chairman of the Campaign for an Independent Britain (CIB), whose website was kindly hosted on a family webpage. Net visitors can see the Bullen family pets, holiday pictures, a policeman blowing a whistle, a flag blowing, and a singing gerbil in a nappy. Under Stoddart's tenure, the membership tripled. This is notably a relative statement. I attempted to confront the organisation with the popular rumours that their subscription is in fact still in single figures, but the elderly male secretary, treasurer and deputy I reached on what seemed to be Stoddart's home number, all laughed at the suggestion.
He was expelled from the Labour Party in 2001 for backing a socialist candidate, and now harasses the government with endless questions, objections and disputes of terminology. An example of his admirable capacity to harp on about minor aspects of policy was his daily letters (sometimes more), to the Commons Environmental and Wildlife Commission, requiring detailed breakdowns of the statistics of birds' migratory patterns in Lancashire and Northumberland marshland. Commission President the Rt. Hon. Charles Kennedy MP, was put under enormous pressure by the increasingly specific and vicious demands, and it is notable that this coincided with the beginnings of Mr Kennedy's alcoholism.
Stoddart has recently lamented the lack of interest accorded to the Lords: "It is a great pity that the media generally takes so little interest in the great efforts made by so many hard working Peers", he says, going on to explain that being "a constant thorn in the side of government" was his ultimate aim.
The Sunday Telegraph journalist, Christopher Booker, once described Lord Stoddart as "a star" of the House of Lords. And if he continues to gently rock the boat by throwing enormous, crushingly heavy reports against the sails, then who's to say that's a bad thing. I spoke to Stoddart, who said that he currently has no plans to retire, despite his hefty, unrewarding workload and self-confessed lack of acknowledgement. I asked him if he knew the tale of the Greek Sisyphus. "A great, crafty king", he mused. I didn't have the heart to tell him to read on. After all, what's the point?