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|Shinzo Abe´s lessons for Gordon Brown|
Asahi Shimbun - July 23rd 2007
It is hard to follow a superstar. In that regard,
The difficult choice that a new prime minister has to make when following people as successful as Junichiro Koizumi and Tony Blair is to decide whether to try to emphasise how different they are or how similar. To succeed, politicians have to be vain and to believe that they are special, so the natural instinct is to stand for change, rather than continuity.
That is what Mr Brown is doing. In his case, there is an added motive for differentiation, since Mr Blair became deeply unpopular in his last few years as prime minister, chiefly because of the
Despite the natural instinct to be different, it is still hard to understand why Mr Abe has governed in the way that he has. Mr Koizumi’s popularity was founded on his apparent attitude to economic reform and his desire to change the way in which the government worked. He was only partly successful in achieving such changes, but the Japanese public seemed to believe he was trying to do the right thing.
Mr Koizumi’s marketing ability certainly helped. But a cardinal rule of advertising is that you cannot succeed for long by using a brilliant campaign to sell a bad product. Mr Koizumi succeeded because his product—changing the LDP, changing the government, changing the economy—worked sufficiently well to be believable.
So that is what Mr Abe needed to continue doing. But he didn’t. His early success in improving relations with
Gordon Brown must take note. What has Mr Abe emphasised, in his desire to be different? Constitutional change and the teaching of patriotism in schools, in addition to that shift in
The result for Mr Abe has been that the Japanese public have come to believe that his priorities are different from theirs: jobs, incomes, the quality of schools, the security of their pensions. If the pensions scandal had come to light during Mr Koizumi’s premiership it would also have been damaging for him, but at least Mr Koizumi established a credible reputation as a critic of the bureaucracy, an opponent of its complacency and its abuses. Mr Abe, by contrast, has been put on the defensive by the pensions scandal, and has been made to look as if he and his government are part of the problem that led to the loss of pension records rather than part of the solution to it.
The upcoming election will tell us how badly this mistake has rebounded on Mr Abe, how big a penalty he will pay for failing to follow Mr Koizumi’s example and to paint himself as a reformer of the economy and the bureaucracy. Some people worry that a bad defeat and then a change of prime minister will mean that Japanese politics is back in the mire it descended into in the 1990s, with a series of short-lived prime ministers. They worry that this will damage
That is surely wrong. If the election shows that Japanese voters are willing to punish the governing coalition for having failed to improve the economy and for failing to solve bureaucratic abuses, then that will be a positive sign, not a negative one. The more demanding that Japanese voters become, the better it will be for
Gordon Brown does not have to face an election in his first year in office, since