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Saturday, November 24, 2012

From Russia with love - the Rhondda MP and the alleged smear campaign

Yesterday's Telegraph contains one of the more bizarre political stories I have seen for a some time. The paper says that Rhondda MP, Chris Bryant, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Russia and a frequent critic of Vladimir Putin's regime, has accused the Russian Embassy in London of initiating a critical online post which featured a picture of him in his underpants.

He believes that the Embassy was determined to remove him as chair of the group and had consequently masterminded the article by the Conservative Friends of Russia, which criticised his chairmanship 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.

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. He said the article was a "personal attack over a trivial matter" but said Mr Bryant's suggestion of links between the group and the Russian Embassy were a "slightly childish counter-accusation".

Conservative Friends of Russia insisted it received no funding from the Russian state and was acting independently.

The MP is convinced that there is more to it than this:

Mr Bryant has long been critical of Mr Putin's leadership, attacking the administration's stance on homosexual rights and its "disgraceful intransigence" over Syria.

He told The Telegraph: "Using that charming, beautiful photo of me from way back when and saying something like 'he knows how to enjoy himself' was puerile, verging on homophobic, and not really what you would expect of an organisation that has a former foreign secretary as its honorary president.

"I think it was intended to be taking the mickey out of me on the basis of my sexuality."

He said the "definite smear" was part of a wider campaign by the Russian Embassy. "I've been told by two Tory MPs that the Russian ambassador has suggested to them that they should get rid of me as chair of the group because I'm gay," he said. "Vladimir Putin's regime has been very aggressive on LGBT rights."

This row could run and run.
For my liking he cannot run far away enough!
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