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Inside politics

Hands, face, what a disgrace

“Hands, face and space weren’t quite what came to mind” when I saw The Sun’s “fabulous” pictures of Matt Hancock, says Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator. He was caught in an “adolescent snog” with Gina Coladangelo, an adviser and university chum. I haven’t enjoyed a story this much since Neil Ferguson was caught breaking the lockdown rules he was involved in drawing up to meet a “comely married blonde woman”. In both cases it’s the hypocrisy that galls. Cabinet ministers can’t hide behind the “personal life” defence when they have criminalised “any number of aspects” of other people’s personal lives. We were banned from kissing under regulations Hancock came up with. “One law for them, the other for us.”

The man who propped up Putin

Alexei Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images

Vladislav Surkov is a “founding father of Putinism”, says Henry Foy in the FT. As the Russian president’s closest adviser for more than a decade, he was the “architect” of the country’s “sovereign democracy”: elections are called and votes are cast, but Vladimir Putin wins every time. Putting his years as a theatre student to good use, he created a stage-managed system that has kept Putin in power for 21 years, despite economic stagnation. There needed to be “independent” opposition parties for people to identify with, but he would simply phone them up and tell them what to do. “An overdose of freedom is lethal to a state,” he says.

The fiftysomething Surkov’s meandering early career took in the army, factory work and a few years “smoking and talking with hippies”. He eventually became the bodyguard, then PR man, of the businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky. When Putin became president at the turn of the century, Surkov was made deputy chief of staff.

The pair created “a new type of state”, Surkov says, one that nonetheless crushes real dissenters like Alexei Navalny. In his downtime, Surkov would write rock lyrics and listen to gangsta rap: on his desk, there was a picture of Tupac Shakur next to one of Putin. Since leaving the Russian president’s service last year – Surkov says he simply got bored – he has done little besides publishing some poetry. A sample verse: “I’m alone again/I was given freedom/Who needs cocaine/When there’s this air?”

🇷🇺 Surkov was instrumental in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, said Peter Pomerantsev in The Atlantic in November 2014, a few months after it happened. The “staged referendums”, mysterious soldiers and “scripted puppet politicians” were straight out of his theatrical playbook. His role earned him travel bans from the US and EU, but when a reporter asked him about it, he smiled and pointed to his head, saying: “I can fit Europe in here.”

Elites 1 Tories 0

The Lib Dem victory in the Chesham and Amersham by-election is “the revenge of the elite”, says Vince Cable in The Independent. These “movers and shakers” have voted Conservative for years, mostly to protect their economic interests. But since Brexit they have found themselves insulted by the Tories, who now seem to believe that “ultimate wisdom” lies in “downmarket pubs and in the columns of The Sun and the Express”. The elites, with their sneered-at cosmopolitan tastes and “global friends”, have taken the hint and gone elsewhere.