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Shinzo Abe's big win has lessons for the Tories

Japan's stagnant economy and ageing population are a mirror to our own. 

The Japanese elections have returned their usual result – a win for the LDP, who have dominated politics almost without interruption since their foundation in 1955 – but via an unusual route.

Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition – the LDP’s usual allies, Komeito – has won at least 313 seats with two races yet to declare. That means that he has retained his super-majority and will almost certainly be re-elected as the party leader this autumn, putting him on course to become Japan’s longest-serving leader of the postwar era should he remain in place until 2020. 

His dream of revising the country’s pacifist constitution is very much alive, too: while Komeito are opposed, the Party of Hope, one of the fledgling parties that emerged to challenge him this year election, which surged briefly before slumping to a soggy third place, are more supportive of the measure, meaning that the super-majority he needs to put his changes through to a popular vote is still at hand.

It means that Abenomics – monetary easing, negative interest rates, labour market reform and QE – are here to stay. Abe’s big win came via an unorthodox route: his popularity rebounded due to his tough handling of the stand-off with North Korea and the opposition quite literally disintegrated in the days before the election. (Of the various fragments of the Democratic Party, it is the leftish Constitututional Democrats who have come second, with 59 seats.)

Cue lots of “that’s how you do a snap election, Theresa” jokes. An even more divided opposition, and one which fell apart rather than unified in the wake of Abe’s decision to hold an election, and the background of military confrontation all made it a very different contest. But it does spotlight the remarkable neglect of the Japanese model by British policymkaers, particularly on the right. (Though the non-partisan Nuffield Trust has done some work on Japan, the UK and their respective care crises, which you can read here if you’re so inclined.) There are important differences and there are big difficulties in adopting that model, but they are nowhere near as big as, say, the idea that we might “become Singapore”.

Japan in many ways offers the ideal target for meeting Conservative aspirations: an economy that is stagnant to sluggish, with an ageing population and low immigration…yet politically free of the destabilising movements that threaten the right here and elsewhere. Yet it is almost entirely absent from any discussion about how to reboot the Conservatives – ideas reheated this weekend involve changing the party’s logo – here in the UK.

I suppose that’s the problem with the fact that Aaron Sorkin never wrote a Tokyo-based version of the West Wing

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.