Monday, May 17, 2010

Lessons from British Election for the US and Japan

The last general election in the United Kingdom gives some lessons to be learned for the United States and Japan, the Big 2 liberal capitalist economies. The United States will have the midterm election this November, and conservative citizens launch bitter backlashes against “socialist” Obama administration, as shown in the Tea Party Movement. In Japan, the election for the House of Councilors will be held in July. Japanese voters question the competence of the Hatoyama administration on child care benefits in the economy, the Futenma Base Dispute in national security, and the Ozawa scandal in political reform.

Quite interestingly, none of the parties won the majority in the House of Commons in the last election. This implies that no parties have captured the heart of British voters. What lessons should America and Japan learn from this election?

Michael Barone, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, points out several implications for the midterm election in the United States this November. Most importantly, voters do not support heavy government spending. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour government shifted leftward, and moved away from the third way of the Blair administration. Also, public support for the Liberal Democratic Party dropped just before the voting date, because Nick Clegg insisted on unrealistic policies, such as legalizing illegal immigration and joining the euro to abolish the pond sterling.

Policy agenda is not the only determinant in the election. In a time of disenchantment with politicians, the old political rules may not apply. Based on traditional uniform swings in party preference, David Cameron’s Conservative Party could have won more seats. This suggests that voters have different view points from those of Westminster insiders (“In Britain, a Cautionary Tale for U.S. Parties”; Washington Examiner; May 10, 2010).

Barone talks of the above lessons and interrelations between British and American political rhythms, as seen in the Reagan-Thatcher and the Clinton-Blair ideological duos.

The final lesson given by Barone is critical to Japan. Although drastic changes are expected due to the collapse of LDP and DPJ predominance in the diet, both old parties and new parties use old techniques to draw voters’ attention in the forthcoming election. Most of the Japanese political parties recruit candidates from TV personalities and athletes, in order to make use of their popularity to win the vote.

It is an irony that Japanese leaders failed to understand this point, although Britain has been a role model of parliamentary democracy when they explore political reform since 1980s.

Considering political rhythms mentioned by Barone, Americans will make use of implications of British election. However, it seems that Japanese political reform will be desperately a long way to go, unless political parties establish a solid recruiting system to find respectable candidates, and stop traditional bread and circus election tactics.