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Wednesday 7 December 2011

Wrong Call From Moscow

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.


Harry Cole said...

As one who claims to believe in fairness and balance, you are nothing but a hypocrite. You spectacularly misrepresent my piece, which clearly stated it was about the mood in Moscow alone and I quote:

"Nonetheless, despite a lacklustre opposition, we are seeing a new phase in Russian politics emerge: what one hack on the ground calls “Putin 2.0” – the next stage of his career that will see him having to actually fight for what he wants rather than bulldozing his way through the system.Though it won't change the endgame this weekend, the polls say United Russia will lose seats. People are getting weary of the cosy coterie at the top, and that will be reflected in the party’s share of the vote.

Putin is used to being popular and used to getting his own way with either minimal effort or the threat of force. If the endless pictures of him topless, slaughtering some wild beast in the vast Russian forest, show one thing it's that he's not young and fresh anymore. The excitement that once surrounded him, reflected in the trademark twinkle in his eye, is long gone.

The fact that the Prime Minister was booed at a boxing match last week has been seen as major turning point -- such overt opposition, on camera and to his face, is a rare occurrence. How Putin copes with being disliked and unpopular will feed the news agenda here in the coming years.

It will certainly liven things up, and it might just re-ignite an audible interest in politics on the streets of Moscow."

That is what we are seeing right now.

That is what these protests are.

You are being wilfully blind.


Tim Fenton said...

Poor Henry doth protest too much. But one cannot object to free dissenting speech - whichever way it is aimed.

Harry Cole said...

Say what you want, but the more you do, the more you show your bitter and somewhat twisted outlook on the world. This is one of your poorer pieces of work. You readership reflects your substandard level of attack.

Tim Fenton said...

Henry continues to protest too much. I am truly flattered to be slagged off by someone so terminally clueless.

Arthur said...

Uh, Tom seems to be deluded over Harry's piece.

Tim said...

"You spectacularly misrepresent my piece"