The newly formed pro-Putin lobby group, Conservative Friends of Russia, just can’t help fucking up. It is really quite astounding to see a group – run by lobbyist Richard Royal – experience so many disasters in so short a time!
Shortly after its launch, this is what happened.
A group of Tory peers and MPs have come under fire after launching a political group, Conservative Friends of Russia, in the Russian ambassador’s garden this week.
About 250 guests including Tory MPs, peers and Russian diplomats attended the event on Tuesday evening at the London residence of Russian envoy Alexander Yakovenko.
Undaunted, Richard Royal took to the pages of Comment is Free to explain why he was launching Conservative Friends of Russia. His explanation was not, as one might cynically assume, “because dodgy Russians have access to the hottest prostitutes and really pure coke”, but rather that it would be good for Britain, international relations, and trade. Or something.
Here is Richard Royal’s conclusion:
We absolutely understood that we were embarking on a controversial project that many would try to strangle at birth. However, in contrast to the comments of armchair critics on Twitter who have not attended our events, my inbox is bursting with positive messages of support from attendees of all backgrounds – students, businesses, MPs, charities and cultural organisations. Many media outlets have praised our bravery in tackling a thorny but necessary subject. Certainly, our membership has expanded rapidly in the past few days. I like to live by the adage that fortune favours the bold, and I believe that beyond the initial hysteria, CFoR will have an extremely promising and positive future.
Sadly, the future has not proven to be particularly promising or positive. The Telegraph reports:
Chris Bryant, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Russia and frequent critic of Vladimir Putin’s regime, accused the Russian Embassy in London of initiating a critical online post which featured a picture of the MP in his underpants.
He said the Embassy was determined to remove him as chair and had masterminded the article by the Conservative Friends of Russia, which criticised his chairmanship of the Parliamentary group and said the group could be disbanded after failing to hold an annual general meeting.
Mr Bryant, who is homosexual, claimed the Conservative group posted the crude “smear” to discredit him on behalf of the Embassy. The article was originally illustrated with a “suggestive” picture of Mr Bryant naked apart from a pair of white y-fronts, which the MP had posted nine years ago on a homosexual dating website. The images later appeared in a tabloid newspaper.
It gets worse:
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, resigned as honorary president of the group over the affair on Friday afternoon. A spokesman for Sir Malcolm said he was “very unhappy” about the article and it was the “final straw”, adding to long-held concerns about the way the group was being run.
Will Conservative Friends of Russia collapse? Let’s see.
Meanwhile here’s some background by Michael Weiss in Foreign Policy.