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23 October 2017

Shinzo Abe’s big win has lessons for the Tories

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

By Stephen Bush

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”.

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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

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