THE optics, as they say, are not good. A Conservative MP grinning on Saddam Hussein’s gold throne, and striking a goofy pose in front of the Victory Arch in central Baghdad.

On the face of it, this is jaw-droppingly insensitive stuff – even by Tory standards – and it’s little wonder relatives of those killed in the Iraq War are calling for his resignation.

But context is key, so let’s not rush to judgment. There must surely be an innocent explanation.

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Perhaps Ross Thomson’s grinning, squinting, idiot’s face was Photoshopped on to someone else’s body. No? Oh, OK. Perhaps he was making a political and artistic statement, like photojournalist David E Scherman with his iconic image of Lee Miller soaping herself in Hitler’s bathtub. What’s that you say? That Thomson added a smiling-with-sunglasses emoji when sharing the pictures online? Hmm, perhaps not quite the same then (although to be fair they didn’t have emojis in 1945, so we can’t be certain this is any different).

Maybe … um … maybe as part of his “fact-finding” visit to Iraq, Thomson had been charged with establishing some facts about throne-cushion comfort, and the statistical odds of being punched in the face for making light of atrocities. Maybe he accidentally left his phone in a room full of hundreds of Iraqi monkeys, who by sheer chance typed out a caption that included the words “channelling my inner dictator”.

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But it would seem none of these explanations are correct, and the MP for Aberdeen South did indeed pose for these pictures, caption them and share them with friends (and at least one leak-happy frenemy) on Facebook.

However – here’s the really important bit – he wants to make clear that there was “absolutely no intention whatsoever to cause offence”.

Stand down everyone! Nothing to see here. Thomson didn’t mean to cause offence, so any offence that has resulted must be someone else’s fault. My money’s on the SNP, who irresponsibly took at least four minutes away from their day job to brand him a disgrace.

This, claims Thomson, amounts to “playing politics”. Let’s just reflect on that accusation for a minute. This is a man who went, as a representative of the UK, to a country that was bombed to bits by the West in the process of removing a murderous dictator, and took a break between meetings with senior Iraqi government figures to pretend to be said murderous dictator, for the LOLs.

Short of pulling down his trousers and defecating in the middle of the Iraqi parliament, it’s difficult to imagine a more offensive course of conduct – but presumably the latter would also be fine so long as it was stressed afterwards that there was absolutely no intention whatsoever to cause offence. Anyone complaining about the stink would be committing the heinous crime of playing politics.

That’s just it though – “playing” is exactly what Thomson was doing. On a work trip to a devastated country, his idea of a great lark was to role-play as a man who killed a quarter of a million of its inhabitants, and then brag about it to his pals.

If he was the leader of his university debate team, or PR manager for a multinational firm, this would have been an unwise move, deserving of a 48-hour Twitter storm and a reprimand from the principal or a formal warning. But this man is 30 years old, and a Member of the UK Parliament. Is it really so unreasonable to expect that his playground days might be behind him? Or is the bar now so low that a sociopath with a brass neck can simply shrug off controversy without so much as a mealy-mouthed apology to “anyone who might have been offended”?

We pay our politicians to think through the consequences of their actions – not to act on instinct and then shrug when things go wrong, or suggest the opposition are being mean old bullies for pointing out their mistakes.

We should be able to trust them to think carefully about important decisions in a wide range of policy areas, such as the ethics and practicalities of implementing a two-child tax credits cap, or the potential scope of retrospective immigration rule changes, or the purpose of air strikes targeted at an already chaotic foreign country that has not attacked the UK.

If Ross Thomson wishes to clown around with impunity, he should apply for a job with a circus (a double act with Boris Johnson would surely go down a storm, particularly if zip lines were installed in the big top). Then, in his leisure time, he can play politics to his heart’s content by building a wee Wendy house in his living room, installing some green leather benches in it and jeering along whenever Prime Minister’s Questions is on the TV. Or he could set up some nice backdrops and pose for a “what I did on my holiday” Twitter series, with teddies playing the roles of Baghdad mayor Zekrra Alwach, Iraqi higher education minister Abdul Al-Essa and Falih Alfayyadh, head of the Iraqi National Security Council. Probably a safer bet than returning to the country to explain to any of those people what’s so funny about mass murder.

Meanwhile, the grown-ups can get on with the boring old business of grown-up politics. Until, that is, the next scandal involving a Tory politician behaving disgracefully.