As election day approached in Russia, two flannelled fools flew in from London. This is not a unique occasion: many Brits arrive in Moscow every day, giving local businesses more than ample opportunity for enrichment. These two, however, believed themselves to be on a serious mission, to bring their new media perspective to Muscovites who had thus far managed more than adequately without it.
The two were Jag Singh, who claims to be “an all-round cool guy”, and Henry Cole, more usually tame gofer to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog. Cole, whose cluelessness is the stuff of legend, decided to compose a post for The Commentator, a repository of right-leaning ranting and frothing, to demonstrate his superior knowledge of the Russian political scene.
Cole considered the upcoming election, and told his readers “we know the result already – Putin’s United Russia will sweep the board again, locking down his grip ... will see him continue to dominate Russian politics for at least another six (but probably twelve) years”. There was, to be fair, an admission later on that Putin had been less than well received at a boxing match the previous week.
And Cole also mentioned that polls indicated United Russia possibly losing seats, but somehow the imminent thumbs-down – especially from voters in Moscow and St Petersburg – escaped him. Because, despite indications of vote stuffing and intimidation – along with some parties being barred from even standing – United Russia lost around 77 seats.
The losses for Putin’s party were despite some areas indicating voter turnout as high as 146%. The entire republic of Chechnya returned a vote for United Russia of 99.9%, a score that would have pleased even Leonid Brezhnev. Many city districts gave Putin less than 25% of the vote. Even with all the deployment of dubious practices, United Russia secured less than 50% of the popular vote.
There is little doubt that, had the elections been free and fair – and open to all parties – United Russia would have been soundly beaten. Four times as much money is on its way out of Russia (as a percentage of GDP) than is coming the other way. A poll of 5,000 students revealed 80% of them intended to leave the country. Putin has corrupted the state in a way that would make the Cosa Nostra blanch.
Yet, for one flannelled fool lost in his own self-importance, all this has passed him by. Perhaps the sight of successive nights of street protest will give Henry Cole a clue as to what he missed. Happily, though, this confirmation of cluelessness has demonstrated to anyone interested just how far The Commentator and the Guido Fawkes blog should be trusted.
And that is, more or less, not as far than their writers can be chucked.