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He has a record 

Tom Watson has a wonderful compilation of Michael Howard’s record. Howard looks certain to be the next Tory leader, and the record isn’t pretty. But he is, as they say, a heavyweight politician and I think he’ll allow the Conservatives to lose with something like dignity, as opposed to being a laughing stock.

The famous Newsnight interview with Howard, where Jeremy Paxman asked him the same question 14 times in succession, was the highlight of Newsnight: The Opera. You can watch that wonderful interview here.

On the other hand 

After reading Nick Paton Walsh’s sobering analysis (see below), I was feeling very gloomy about Russia. But there’s been some good news from Moscow today, as well. The constitutional court has ruled the media law, which Walsh discusses, unconstitutional. It’s not perfect, but it’s an improvement: “Opposition politicians said the scrapping of the rules allowed journalists to write what they wished. But media analysts argued that remaining elements of the law were unclear and left leeway for electoral authorities to act selectively against media organisations.”

Independent courts are fundamental to the operation of a free society. So this is a good sign for Russia.

Democracy 

Two non-democrats weigh in today. First, Mahathir retires tomorrow (hurrah!). His last speech to Malaysia’s parliament equates democracy with anarchy. “Anarchy can take place because of an obsession with democratic freedoms. The belief that if democracy is implemented then everything will be well has no basis, especially if democracy is imposed immediately.”

Much further to the north, Vladimir Putin is showing his non-democratic stripes in strikingly similar terms. “I’ve been hearing allegations [about the rollback of democracy] for four years now, since I became president of the Russian Federation. If by democracy one means the dissolution of the state, then we do not need such democracy. Why is democracy needed? To make people’s lives better, to make them free. I don’t think that there are people in the world who want democracy that would lead to chaos.”

Nick Paton Walsh’s analysis, from which the Putin quote is taken, is well worth reading for those who worry about the future of Russia. (Incidentally, the paper version of The Guardian shows the poster that Walsh writes about. I haven’t been able to find a digital version of this extraordinary image. Any leads would be welcome.)

Choices  

The Hewlett Foundation has backed an interesting quiz on American foreign policy priorities. Like all such exercises, it would be easy to quibble with some of the distinctions in the questions, but I thought overall it presented an interesting spectrum of choices.

My priorities came out as global markets primarily, and secondarily diplomacy, human rights and cooperation.

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