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Christina Patterson

Christina Patterson: Tinker, tailor, ageing Lib Dem councillor with hobbit face, spy...


He looks like a hobbit. He looks like a hobbit who's been locked away from sunlight, and hasn't been allowed to sleep, or shave, or cut his hair, and hasn't been allowed to eat fruit, or veg, or anything that might make his skin look less like the skin on a corpse.

He looks like a hobbit might look if it had a bit of a tummy and tried to hide that tummy with strange leather jackets, and purple jumpers, and jauntily knotted scarves. And if it had the same condition as that Vietnamese woman in the news last week, who aged 50 years in a few days.

But looking like a hobbit doesn't seem to have done Mike Hancock any harm. It doesn't, for example, seem to have stopped the MP for Portsmouth South from having a relationship with a 20-year-old Romanian girl he met on a charity trip, or from having an affair with his constituency secretary, or one with a fellow Lib Dem councillor, or from developing a very close friendship with a 21-year-old Russian blonde.

The trick, according to the Lib Dem councillor, who thought Hancock was going to leave his wife and marry her, is teddy bears. He "keeps sending you teddy bears", she said in an interview when details of the affair came out. "He tells you," she said, "what you want to hear."

It isn't clear whether Mike Hancock had any teddy bears with him on a trip to St Petersburg in 2006, when he met a 21-year-old student of international relations who was acting as his tour guide. It isn't clear exactly what he said that made her think she needed to drop all her plans and meet him in Moscow to practise her English. We don't know, for example, if he told her that she was young, which she was, and blonde, which she was, and pretty, which she was, or if he tracked down a teddy bear shop just behind the Kremlin, and sent a selection to her hotel room, wrapped in red ribbon. Or if, perhaps, he only had to whisper the words "job" and "West".

What we do know is that Katia Zatuliveter was soon living in London, and spending her days working as a parliamentary researcher, and her nights curled up in bed with her boss. It's possible, of course, that she was only ever attracted to hairy men three times her age. It's possible that the Dutch diplomat she slept with at a conference, and the Serbian delegate she slept with at a conference, and the Nato official she slept with at a conference, were all just too young. And that what she'd been waiting for was to wrap her skinny arms round a sagging stomach, and press her lips against pouchy, grizzled cheeks.

It's also possible that this affair, which lasted four years, was exactly what it looks like: a straightforward transaction between two people with clear aims, and open eyes. He gets firm flesh, and skin like a peach. She gets to work where she wants. It's what old, ugly men who have sex with young, pretty women call a fair exchange.

MI5 doesn't think it was a straightforward transaction. MI5 thinks that what Katia Zatuliveter wanted wasn't a job, and a nice life in London. It thinks that what she wanted was secrets. And that Mike Hancock was the victim of a honeytrap. You can see why MI5 might think that, particularly since it first started thinking it just after a pretty girl called Anna Chapman was arrested by the FBI. And particularly if, like the MI5 agent who testified from behind a curtain in court this week, it was "pretty green" when it came to investigating Russians. And if, for example, it had just seen Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. And thought, perhaps, that being a spy during the Cold War looked an awful lot more exciting than being a spy now. You can see why, if you worked for an organisation that used to make people think of car chases, and beautiful women, and villains stroking white cats, and which now advertised vacancies for "solution architects", and "procurement managers", you might feel a bit cheated. And why you might feel disappointed that most of the people you were meant to be monitoring were religious nutters with bushy beards.

You can also see why you might want to get out of the office and question people like Katia Zatuliveter in places like the Savoy and the Kempinski Hotel, which is not only very smart, but also sounds like the kind of hotel a spy might stay in, or a spy might want to visit if they didn't really feel like a spy. You can certainly see why you might want to justify your job by thinking that people you thought looked like spies were spies, and why you might feel nostalgic about a time when everyone wanted your country's secrets. You can see why you might want your lawyers to say things like "You have ensured that the Russian intelligence services have eyes and ears in the House of Commons", and why hearing them say them might give you a thrill.

But it's also possible that when the person you're accusing of being a spy looks surprised to hear her former boss described as "powerful", you might feel you'd got rather carried away. You might, in fact, feel a tiny bit silly. And particularly when you hear her tell the court that he was "just a backbench MP".

Seal of the confessional need not apply

I find it hard to imagine how I could strangle a neighbour, put the body in the boot of their car, and then nip to the supermarket for beer and crisps. It's hard to see how I would then chat to friends, and make jokes at dinner parties, before going home to do internet searches on "murder" and "sexual assault".

Whatever happened on that December night in Bristol when Joanna Yeates died, it's pretty clear that Vincent Tabak is an unusual man. But it also seems slightly strange that a confession he made to the prison chaplain was instantly leaked, on the grounds that Tabak "had not registered" as being "part of a religion". Sign on the dotted line, and it's confidential. Don't, and it isn't. No wonder people say God loves sinners.

Naomi Wolf's message can still shock

It seems somehow appropriate that when she was arrested, on Wednesday night, for lending her support to protesters, and led off, in handcuffs, to a cell which had excrement on the walls, the author of The Beauty Myth, who'd just been to an awards ceremony, was dressed to kill.

It's 20 years since Naomi Wolf published the book that was hailed as the most significant feminist work since The Female Eunuch. In it, she talked about the rise in eating disorders and cosmetic surgery.

She also said something that might make women in Libya, and Tunisia, and Egypt gasp. She said that large numbers of American women had told researchers that they would "rather lose 10-15lb than achieve any other goal".