Which Party Will Sit Out 2013?

It is generally accepted that we are moving closer to an election, but that is all we know. In fact, we may not even know that. Noda has been at his evasive best saying one thing (yes, yes, election soon), but intimating another – at the recent APEC he said to Putin that he was keen to visit to discuss issues of “historic” importance. My rational side says nothing much will come of it, but sounds like as good a reason as any to put off an election. Who knows – maybe Noda has a “Nixon goes to China” card up his sleeve.

Nevertheless the punditry has begun, mainly because we now know that Hashimoto Toru’s party (Japan Restoration Association (Party) or JRA) will be competing in the next lower house election, and has secured seven current MPs, thereby allowing the JRA to run candidates in the regional PR blocks as well as the Single Member Districts. We also have a fair idea of what his policies will be (another post).

So it is about time I put in my almost certainly overvalued two cents.

Jun Okumura says that incentive is for Hashimoto’s JRA to stay out of any post-election coalition – to let the DPJ-LDP-Komeito marriage of ill-repute come together with extremely low expectations, and to fail to even meet those. All the while the JRA will be ready to pounce,  having acquired for itself some basic party funding, in the 2013 House of Councillors election and the likely snap election that would probably take place soon after. A recent Asahi Shimbun poll (日) supports such a view – even before discussions about a grand coalition 43% are against the idea of three-way cooperation versus 38% for a grand coalition. Such numbers will only drop once “deals” are done and the sausage factory is opened to the public. The same poll also asked people who were well disposed to the JRA having influence after the election which party the JRA should cooperate with after this election. 54% of those people said there was no necessity for the JRA to collaborate with any of the existing parties, corroborating Okumura’s view.

Michael Cucek suggests on the other hand that the incentive is actually for the DPJ to stay out of any post-election coalition, utilizing an ‘excuse’ of having essentially “lost” the faith of the people, to take advantage of a likely LDP-Komeito-JRA train wreck. If there is a formal or semi-formal arrangement – perhaps the LDP-Komeito forming a minority government, with the JRA providing confidence – Cucek predicts that such an arrangement falls apart due to countless skeletons coming out of the JRA amateurs’ (in the non-critical sense of the word) closets and various other iniquities and incompetencies. Even if the arrangement is very loose, it is hard to see collaboration surviving beyond the first budget – the LDP has promised to essentially bring back the “construction state” while the JRA’s continued existence will depend on it not being seen to support such an outcome. The DPJ will, with new leadership and after a period of reflection, be able to make up some ground in the snap election that would come from this,  and will ultimately be in a better position to finally implement, along with the JRA, some of the administrative reforms it originally wanted to.

Where do I stand on this?

I say it depends on how who is left standing in the DPJ after the next election. My issue with Cucek’s scenario is a simple one – I can see his logic, but is the collective leadership of the DPJ that smart…or more so, that brave?

Cucek is correct when he states that Ozawa, and the DPJ in general, had brought in good talent to man, and importantly, woman its middle and junior ranks. The greatest tragedy would be that such talents would go to waste while the ancien regime of the Cold War left and the now compromised senior leadership squeak on by. The party has over time brought in many centrists with real world experience outside of politics, and with a genuine interest in policy. If these talents are wiped out completely then the DPJ will have nothing to rehabilitate and may as well join in on the grand coalition. If the party can affect true “generational change,” perhaps under a humble but young leader like Hosono (who tactically and symbolically did the right thing by not running for the DPJ leadership), then Cucek’s strategy may be plausible. So can a decent size rump of the “next generation” survive 2012?

Depending on who the LDP selects as its leader, the DPJ will probably as the polls show finish second or third in the PR – they will be lucky to get much more than 20%. This will likely rehabilitate the current leadership through PR lists but not much more. So it will come down to   the 300 (or 295) SMDs whether the DPJ can find any salvation. The DPJ “kanban” is certainly not of any help. However much of Ozawa’s recruited talent have been squirreling away and paying attention to their constituencies and their stakeholders over the last 3 years. Those in urban areas should do better than the DPJ’s PR vote. It is likely Rengo, as well as some of the other stakeholder organizations that crossed over to the DPJ in 2009, will still get out significant votes for the DPJ. At least, the LDP has not really given them any reason to go rushing back. Should the JRA eat into the swing against the DPJ, thus depriving the LDP of the former DPJ votes they would have been expecting, then it is possible that the DPJ might do ok in some urban SMDs in a three or four way race. Nevertheless, you would expect some tactical deals to be struck between the JRA, Komeito, the LDP in particular. Already the JRA and Komeito have struck a deal in the Kansai region to lend each other support, but what deals are going to be struck in the rest of the country? Can the DPJ get in on any of these deals?

In terms of the calculus, Hashimoto is losing a little of his shine. Recent opinion polls have asked the question of whether people would want to see Hashimoto having influence in the next government. Previously the numbers had been closer to 2 to 1. Now they are evening up – I recall one recent poll having it at 50% in favour of post-election Hashimoto influence vs 43 % against . A recent NHK poll (日) has 54% as having expectations for Hashimoto’s party, while 42% not having these expectations. In the aforementioned Asahi poll, with the more exact question of “would you like to see Hashimoto’s party take enough seats in the election to have influence,” the number is 50% for the proposition versus 36% against, meaning that the JRA’s ability to take out a large number of SMDs on its own may be compromised if these numbers head further south. Indeed if the above Asahi poll is anything to go by, where only 5 percent said at this point they would vote for the “Osaka Ishin no Kai” then it seems the public’s support of the Hashimoto zeitgeist is not automatic – they may like many of his policies but that is not going to automatically translate into votes. I am not sure I buy the 5% as being representative, but nevertheless the party will still have some work to do and who it puts out as candidates, and what they say will be important. Perhaps Noda’s desire, having now lured Hashimoto to reveal his strategy, is to lengthen the time until the election precisely to allow for as much time for mistakes and disclosures, as Cucek has predicted, to take place.

In any respect the DPJ, if it is concerned with its own long-term survival, should be doubling their efforts to put a wedge between the LDP and Komeito on any issue possible, particularly electoral reform. The DPJ will still likely lose big, and even some notable party names may be knocked off, but if the party is smart or lucky then in the urban centers a number of the younger, centrist Diet members can survive the next election.

However I have my doubts if the senior leadership of the DPJ is that focused, or that considerate of those that they are leading. We can see this is in party elder Sengoku Yoshito’s recent statement that the DPJ would likely, if it had to, settle for the simplest solution to the unconstitutionality of the vote disparity in the House of Representatives of only reducing the number of SMDs by five seats. The rank and file of the DPJ should be under no illusions – if Sengoku represents the party leadership’s feelings, then Sengoku essentially wants to hasten the transition to the grand coalition as soon as possible, but on the most favourable terms for traditional LDP interests, something unforgivable from both an emotional partisan and a rational actor’s point of view.

Kan’s Strategic Stubbornness II

Much has already been said about the remarkable turn-around in yesterday’s events where, within the space of a few hours, the DPJ went from death’s door to the LDP and the opposition being the ones  in for some tough times in terms of party unity. It seems likely that the LDP senior party leadership will be roundly criticized, with Tanigaki, Oshima, and Ishihara Nobuteru likely to be in the firing line.

Not only was the LDP embarrassed by the outcome of yesterday’s events,  but it could well be one of the final few nails in the coffin of the old guard of the LDP. For the first time since the 2009 election it was starting to look as if the LDP was starting to pick up votes due to DPJ blunders. Now having completely misread public sentiment (which while disapproving of Kan was against such a cynical political exercise at this point in time), and having Tanigaki on record not ruling out a grand coalition with Ozawa (who is still considerably more unpopular than Kan), then it may well have snuffed out continuing such a comeback. While the opposition will accuse the DPJ of playing politics with peoples’ lives and engaging in nothing more cynical political and party shenanigans (and they may well be right), it is they who come out looking like they have politicized the recovery for self-interested gain.

Not only have they lost the main weapon for removing Kan, (a no-confidence motion can only be submitted once during a parliamentary session according to parliamentary custom) they are now in a position where they will likely be compelled to cooperate with some of the government’s policy programme. Now that Kan has indicated that he will likely step down around December and/or January, should the recovery programme proceed, the opposition now have little choice but to work with the DPJ if they want to see the back of Kan. A nice little outcome for such a curious promise – a promise, to be sure, so vague it could only convince the likes of Hatoyama Yukio. The 22 or so LDP members (which is one-fifth of the current LDP’s strength) who participated in the “minji-ren” meeting last week, will have their position within the party strengthened – or ignored at the party’s peril.  This group wished to see more focus being placed on cross-party approaches to the recovery effort, as well as accelerate generational change in politics (and thus escape the personal politicking they saw being pursued by the LDP senior leadership, the Kan group, and the Ozawa group)- something that Kan himself alluded to when indicating he would step down at some point. Kono Taro was one of the main LDP sponsors of this grouping.

At least, this is what one would think the logical outcome of all of this would be. Already there is talk about the LDP submitting a censure motion in the Upper House, although as this Yomiuri article points out, some might well be tiring of this kind of approach. The Reconstruction Design Council will present its findings this month and Kan is well positioned to take ownership of them. Of course what happens from here is anyone’s guess. But whether by design or not, it seems that Kan’s strategic stubbornness has paid off for him. And this war of attrition seems to be applying ever more pressure to the back of the old establishment.

1 Ishihara not helping himself by equating Kan to Hitler in the lead-up speeches. Yes, they are just that simply out of touch with the public. Kan has certainly not been a star and has certainly been frustrating. But the opposition had been framing the no-confidence motion as the choice between Hitler and FDR…and no-one, including the public, was going to be fooled by this. 

Path to stability?

It seems that the various attempted manoeuvres initiated by the DPJ to pass the budget and budget related bills have failed. The negotiations with the SDP for support for a 2/3 override vote in the lower house seem to have broken down – helped along by Hatoyama’s recent entertaining remarks (en) – and an attempt to break up parts of the budget and related bills so to facilitate party by party support, while considered for a brief period of time by some opposition parties, also seems to have come to nothing. The prospect of a snap election – likely by June if not in April when nationwide integrated local elections are held – is becoming all the more likely. Indeed according to a recent jiji poll (jp) the number of those who believe that there should be a lower house election (40%) or the Kan cabinet should resign (15%) are in the majority. Only 33% believe Kan should tough it out for a while.

While the big news is that the Kan cabinet support rate (17.8%) has fallen below the Hatoyama cabinet’s own low of 19.1%, the poll shows a continuation of another trend – that other parties are completely unable to capitalize on the DPJ’s missteps. In fact the poll shows that all parties except for the SDP have lost support since December and even the SDP only gained a measly 0.1 percent. More interestingly, and in this author’s view, more encouraging, is that the LDP has lost more support since December than the DPJ has (even if only by a margin of 1% – 2.9% loss for LDP v 1.9 % for DPJ). Certainly if there is an election soon it is anyone’s guess what the outcome would be – unless a catalyzing event, perhaps such as a good showing by reform parties in the upcoming local elections, or the break up of the DPJ itself leading to political realignment (of sorts), occurs, then it seems likely that the outcome will be an equivocal one.

However, with the recent psuedo-revolt (en) inside the DPJ by members aligned to Ozawa (who are claiming to be the true defenders of the DPJ manifesto) the eventual break-up of the party is looking somewhat more likely (jp). Needless to say this revolt could fatally compromise the legislation-making ability of the Kan government. But aside from the resentment regarding the way Ozawa is being treated inside the party, such a course of action is, as I have argued before, quite a rational course of action for those in the DPJ who benefited from the strong anti-LDP vote in 2009. All members of the current break away clique were elected on the proportional representation list and almost all are first-time members of the house. While they have at times, amusingly, been described as “young” by the Japanese press (若手 – only 3 of the 16 are under 45 ) they all are likely to suffer the most from an upcoming election under the DPJ banner, having not had even a local constituency to represent while trying to raise their personal profile in the last 2 years. A lot of the first-time candidates who were elected to local constituencies in 2009, under Ozawa’s direction took straight to using their new found status to raise their profile and have worked assiduously at a local level to consolidate their position, hardly touching 0n policy at all. These members in particular might find it most advantageous to distance themselves from the party at a later date – something they could well credibly do considering their lack of DPJ “institutionalization.”

Whether the initial revolt leads to a chain reaction of destruction remains to be seen but it really seems that we have entered a crucial stage. Kan, Sengoku and Okada in particular have inherited a poison chalice in leading the party at this time and it now seems certain that they will not be able to offload it before election time through constructive policymaking and the achievement of results- and it very much seems that the LDP as a whole still cannot get rid of theirs. With 65% of voters undecided, bold action in any direction would seem to be far less risky than it would normally be. If the DPJ decides to call an election in June as many are picking (some say in a deal to get the budget passed), the April local elections could well be a very interesting catalyzing event and may well have an impact on the perception of political and electoral incentives for many of the less institutionalized political players in the Japanese political system. While much of the English language media will further deride the ‘instability’ in Japanese politics, and lament the end of the ‘responsible’ Kan, it may well in fact be the case that we are seeing a path to stability open up in the current fog. As always, time will tell.

Update: Indeed this (en) article reflects the feeling of a younger DPJ lawmaker in relation to the DPJ vs new regional parties, a feeling I suspect is more widespread. H/T to Janne.

Ozawa Appreciation Society?

Seems Ozawa has changed his tune and will front up to the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics, to “explain” himself as many have been calling for. The timing is interesting. Also, what an interesting man – according to this article (jp) he adds with some delicious irony “I’ll front up to the council any time – I was the one who created the council, ya know.” And indeed it appears that in 1985 as Lower House Steering Committee chairman that he did.

I think my point is made.

Also, it seems that Masuzoe has figured out before everyone else that there cannot be too many “third pole” parties. He has thrown down the gauntlet in front of Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi suggesting that he believed that Watanabe along with himself  were clear on who was “the no.1 enemy” (Ozawa – that man again).  He then slandered Watanabe’s good name by casually alluding to the fact that some people have suggested that Your Party are “DPJ II”. I am sure they will be now!!

To be sure Watanabe had a pretty sensible comeback  saying that they would not be any pushover in any coalition and in fact they could exert some positive pressure by being the “casting vote”. He did make sure to suggest that while the DPJ were imitation reformers, YP is the real thing, and that Masuzoe and he would be better off if they did not go into battle against each other. Apparently Masuzoe was also probably alluding to history between Watanabe’s father and Ozawa around about 1993 – Watanabe Michio (who was a Minister of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Vice PM in his time) was thinking of leaving the LDP in 1994 and apparently was considering an offer from the at the time shinseitou boss, who went by the name Ozawa Ichiro. After failing three times to get the LDP presidency, his interest was piqued by a possible prime ministership.

Update: The timing is indeed interesting. Shisaku explains why.

Futenma

Tobias Harris has posted an excellent dissection of the contours of the Futenma issue over at Observing Japan. I will offer a couple of reflections of my own.
Mr Harris makes an interesting and very valid point that if Hatoyama and the DPJ were really acting in bad faith vis-a-vis the US relationship, the situation would look very different. To quote:
That the Hatoyama government is searching so hard for alternatives — including alternatives within Okinawa — is evidence of its desire to maintain a constructive relationship with the US….not evidence of its desire to undermine the relationship

This is often forgotten I feel – although I guess it depends on your reading of how much the Japanese public “values” the US-Japan alliance.

If Hatoyama was decisive about the issue in an “anti-American” way (or more appropriately for Japan “standing up to the bully” kind of fashion), the very same people who currently are having misgivings about the damage to the US-Japan relationship from a purely calculating point of view might have found some satisfaction in the identity/symbolic politics of this, which has its own kind of benefits.

Basically, the public might have been willing to “sell” off a bit of short-term good will in terms of the US-Japan relationship in order to buy a little bit of long-term “realism” to base the relationship on in terms of communicating to the US the rules of engagement for the development of the relationship in the future. This battle may well have to be fought another day – possibly in less US friendly terms.

That Hatoyama has not indulged in this kind of politics has been to his own detriment  – he may well be appearing to be compromising the relationship for no “good” reason.

Which we can connect to another point Mr Harris makes about Hatoyama being boxed in by the US  on this issue and the US escalating the issue. Here I have to wonder, overall, how much damage long-term this may do to the US-Japan relationship – to the detriment of the US more than Japan perhaps. Hatoyama’s own deficiencies on this will be patently obvious to the public (which is detailed well in the post) but the public is probably also fully aware of the role US influence has played in this. This perception, especially if an out-of-Okinawa solution fails, will be fodder for symbolic politics for any subsequent cabinet/government.

Furthermore, if the US is seen to be “hard to work with” on these kind of issues, does this not provide an incentive for future Japanese politicians to avoid taking the “good faith” angle? The case and the fate of the curious Hatoyama Yukio may well be a textbook example for future budding Japanese politicians.

Possibly US alliance managers thought they could embarrass the DPJ out of government?
If so, this looks decidedly ill advised as not only electorally speaking with all of the most US-friendly politicians comfortably tucked away in the increasingly irrelevant LDP, but a pretty bad reading of the public mood. I wonder how much will be learned from this however – it will be obvious to many that the public does not approve of Hatoyama’s handling of Futenma.  But for the reasons that the alliance managers think? I doubt it.

Another poll, another day, more bad news for the DPJ, worse for the LDP

Following on from the theme of a previous post the Asahi has released yet another poll which indicates just how terribly things are going for both of the major parties.

General support for the DPJ has dropped 5% from 32 to 27 percent. Somehow, the LDP still manages to drop a further 3% from 18 to 15%! Likewise with the question on voter’s intention for the Upper House election – the DPJ loses 2% to drop to 30%, while the LDP also drops a further 2% to 21%. The non-aligned vote for the first question is 46%, up from 37%, while the “don’t know” proportion for the upcoming election rises a further 5% to 37%.

The LDP “brand” cannot be salvaged. I think this is now clear. When I read articles such as this from Koike Yuriko, who I have some time for, I just cannot get beyond the fact she is in the LDP while over-dramatizing some of the DPJ’s dubious but as of yet unproven foibles (relative to the dirty laundry being aired out now in regards to the LDP’s historical lack of concern for democracy). No matter what sort of compelling case she makes, attacking the DPJ (fairly or unfairly) from the LDP is less than convincing.

If Masuzoe, Yosano* and the others do not jump ship now, Hatoyama K.’s decision (of all people) is going to look rather inspired. He has given himself until May to drag them with him.

Incidentally, the poll above states that 63% of the public are not particularly impressed with “Regime Change” and believe it has done not much of anything.

This may not bode well for the DPJ, but if the right moves are not made soon by potential reformists (I have doubts about Hatoyama K. on his own), then their impact might be delayed until the next Lower House election. While most of the DPJ’s reforms have been very subtle but very important ones relating to the constitutional relationship of different branches of government, we could  forgive the public for not noticing in amongst most of sensationalist media coverage. However, as one would expect of a party with Ozawa in it, the actual policy trophies that the public is looking for are going to be timed to be unveiled in the lead up to the Upper House election.

While I may not expect to see the DPJ recover greatly in terms of identified party support, a reasonable resolution of Futenma plus a decisive policy programme could well lead the DPJ to getting a fair amount more than the 30% that voters would give them now. After all despite the loss of public confidence, 67% of people still believe that the result of the last election was still an improvement over a continuation of LDP governance. So, if I may take some liberties in interpreting all of this,  we have the “terribleness” of the current government  and their bumbling approach to various issues along with some “affronts to democracy” thrown in – but both the people and their activities are still preferable to the outright incompetence, lack of conviction and full-on disregard of democracy that we saw under the LDP.

Which all goes to show just what an interesting time it is to be a student of Japanese politics!**

* Correction – Yosano and Koike were elected by way of proportional vote in the Lower House, so they actually have reasonably little room to move unless they want to contest the upcoming Upper House election.

** Probably remiss of me to mention but Your Party might get as much as 6% if the election was held today. Probably for the meantime a smart move to snub Hatoyama K.’s overtures and see how much support he can whip up before a “realignment” to strengthen his own hand.

Update:

From the Yomiuri (J), I see there is some interesting discussion about the various LDP relationships of importance for Hatoyama in his attempt to create a third pole in the electoral system. Seems that a number of people in the party still(!) need convincing that the LDP is not a vehicle for change – some criticism from closely linked Diet members that Hatoyama K. has “left the station before everyone is onboard” so to speak. I anticipate that the LDP will live on in some form – after all, the 10 percent that steadfastly supported the Aso cabinet at the end obviously have some affection for the party.

May is getting closer……

While this throws a spanner in the works, I think Ozawa is right on this one – not necessarily because of the moral “rightness” of the cause, or the need to send the US a “message” about Japan wanting a more independent foreign policy (I think the message has been heard), but simply that it would be very disadvantageous at the polls and not just for consistency reasons. I have thought for some time that the Futenma issue over and above everything else is an opportunity for a  Japanese government to show that they can indeed engage in Real Politik and use their influence to competently achieve a substantial negotiated outcome. If they were not confident that they would get an outcome which involves moving the base of Okinawa at least, then I really feel that they should not have gone down that road. Not only does it make them look somewhat incompetent, but the message that has been sent is that Japanese governments are going to unpredictably stand up now and then on certain issues – it does not demonstrate what the rules of engagement are going to be for these “fights”. In fact it just makes the government look petty.

Moving the base off Okinawa would look like a genuine “victory” from a realist point of view, and from the “alliance maintenance” point of view a “not in Okinawa” line actually is substantive enough as a principle to show that the government may have some broader principles to fall back on when potentially “jeopardising” the alliance, rather than allowing coalition partners to cause trouble for seemingly no good reason. Ozawa seems to understand that a “in Okinawa” solution is probably not going to be any different from going with the current plan from an electoral point of view – and at the very least going with the current plan you could say that the review showed that after all this was the best option from Japan’s point of view also – no one is going to believe that for the sub-optimal next best Okinawa option, IMHO.

政党交代?LDP on the move

Finally some genuinely interesting news on the LDP reform front – it was announced today that a new study group, with approximately 30 “young” LDP members making up its core, has been set up. (keizai senryaku kenkyuu kai – 経済戦略研究会) Masuzoe Yoichi, a former Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare,  is none too surprisingly the chair given his rumblings over the lack of proper reform within the LDP since the severe losses in the Lower House elections last year.

This new study group is not only a reaction to this lack of progress but also recognition that despite the DPJ fall in popularity, this has not translated into a rise for the LDP. The article goes on to mention that this could be a platform for Masuzoe to run for LDP president at some point, or to even form a new political party. The second is not quite as far fetched as might be thought – as suggested there is a significant amount of “vote” in play given the public’s disappointment with both parties, and Watanabe Yoshimi’s minna no tou (Your/Everyone’s Party depending on how you swing) has made some gains lately and looks to be recruiting.  And possibly most interestingly, this “party”/study group unlike the two major parties has a very clear policy and ideological platform. According to the article the group is committed to pushing forth with the postal privatisation agenda, and the general structural reforms that Koizumi pursued while in office. Given that “Koizumi’s children” were the big losers within the LDP  ranks at the last election (which probably had little to do with their policies, and more the LDP brand), it is a full challenge to the current LDP leadership/old guard to make nice, and offer a coherent agenda, rather than get overly precious about the “money and politics” narrative that seems to be (painfully ironically) occupying the LDP leadership currently. The main short term goal seems to be to offer some space for internal discussion, to influence the LDP’s HoC manifesto, and to help the LDP to clarify its point of difference from the DPJ.

Personally, I would like to see them split away – at first they could serve as a party, that the DPJ should work with if they fail to get the needed HoC votes later this year*, rather than the current odd lot, or in an awkward partnership with komeito as I have seen mentioned lately. Secondly, over time this party (or a thoroughly renewed LDP – lots of barriers to that since the current lot are locked in for four years and the old guard may prefer to retire than give the party away to the “youngsters”) may well offer a legitimate choice for the next Lower House election. This could make for some very interesting and genuine policy debates leading up to that now that the leadership of the DPJ has suggested that they will go to the public with any suggestion of a Sales Tax increase (ie not increase it before then) during the next Lower House election cycle.

Watch this space.

*(either to create a supermajority in the lower house, or preferably in a 2 or 3 headed coalition with Watanabe’s party within the HoC – trying to hunt down a list of those in attendance to see what the electoral implications could be.)

Update:

The main instigators appear to be:

Hiroshige Sekou (HoC), Kajiyama Hiroshi (HoR), Suga Yoshihide (HoR), Kawaguchi Yoriko (HoC), Shiozaki Yasuhisa (HoR) and Masuzoe Youichi (HoC)

A summary from Yamamoto Ichita here. From here it seems the Lower House members were most vocal.

Could it be?

Some decisive action on the policy front? More so, in line with the manifesto as promised?

Hatoyama after a number of days of being pushed around on this has come out and definitely stated that the full child allowance will be made available from 2011. Seemingly no ifs, no buts. He seems supremely confident that he will be able to make up this amount of money merely through cutting wasteful expenditure rather than adding to the national debt. This is the sort of decisive leadership that has been missing and one only hopes it is not too little, too late. Not so much for Hatoyama himself, as many of us are losing affection if we ever had any for his almost Scooby Doo (or is it Shaggy?) like premiership, but because when all is said and done, notwithstanding reports that the child allowance should be higher, it is as correctly identified by the party itself, a very important policy. This could be an opening shot in the “fight back”, which really is nothing more than doing something, preferably the things you said you would do. (Accepting that on a subtle constitutional level, and in IR also, the impact of the DPJ has been extraordinary – but that as we have seen lately, that is seemingly not what the media wants to discuss).

Even if the child allowance is somewhat useful as one social policy intervention hopefully amongst many, it will definitely ensure that unlike trifling stimulus handouts, that the money will go into supporting domestic consumption. I am not convinced by arguments that the money should be reinvested into the education system itself – having seen it work first hand I am neither convinced it would be particularly efficiently used, nor would any of the potential short term impacts, economic or social, be felt. Parents, especially those thinking of their second child (really what we are wanting here) don’t think that far into the future,  and nor should they necessarily. The first three to four years or so is really what any of us want to be assured about when thinking about procreating and thus the simple handout is the best mechanism to do the job without incurring any more bureaucratic waste/complexity than is necessary. Sometimes the people closest to the action can best judge what the best use of money is – my experience of Japan suggests to me that the Japanese are particularly conscientious parents to a fault. I guess there is a need to head off the devastating self-reinforcing cultural impacts severe income equality has before it establishes itself and undermines this conscientiousness like it has in many Western countries*. The fact that Japanese are still genuinely outraged by deadbeats, Pachinko mothers and fathers and the other cultural memes you will see in the media about Japanese society falling apart is promising – it suggests that people have not just assumed that is the way of things.

* To be sure my fundamental philosophy requires that I support the need for some degree of inequality (loosely termed by some neo-liberals as “freedom”) but only in so far as it supports the capacity of individuals in a pluralistic society to (mostly) rationally act upon their potential, and does not do the opposite. I am a bit ‘early’ John Stuart Mill like that.

Why would I say that?

Now this is interesting and unless I am missing something, a little unnecessary, unless some more intrigue is to come…

Hatoyama has specifically denied telling Ozawa that he wanted him to do his best in his current role as DPJ chief secretary in response to Ozawa’s  polite request to do so after confirmation that he would not be indicted for the latest political donations scandal. As the article points out this is most definitely unusual – this is a direct contradiction of Ozawa’s recollection. Hatoyama emphasises that he only responded with a yes to less polite Ozawa request to continue in the role.

Yukio sensing a weakness? If only he was that politically astute!