Matt Devereux sees reasons to be cheerful in the land of the Rising Sun
Statist hero of the week? On Monday Japanese premier Junichiro Koizumi announced that he would make plans to privatise the national postal service his key election pledge. After losing the privatisation motion to the House of Councillors (upper parliamentary house), Koizumi decided to call a snap election to ask the Japanese public “whether they think the same way.” Early indications show that the strategy might well have paid off, with the Prime Minister’s approval rating rising 9 points thus far on the back of this single issue. In practical terms, the privatisation process will be long and hard.
Japan Post is far more than just a stamp and mail operation. Its $2.9 trillion held in savings and insurance effectively make it the world’s richest bank. With approximately 8,000 more post office outlets than in the UK, the prospect of opening the Japanese state monopoly to market forces make our plans to privatise Royal Mail pale in comparison. It’s not the statistics that impress, however. It’s the extent to which Koizumi has dared to stake his future on a subject recently lacking in North Atlantic political relations.
Take the 2005 Conservative Manifesto – the word “privatise” does not appear once. This despite Michael Howard’s half-baked promise to allow private treatment at NHS prices (and standards) for those willing to pay. It’s as if ideas of free trade and free enterprise have abandoned mainstream UK politics altogether. It’s been left to us crazies on the sidelines to remind the public that high taxation/high spend is not necessarily the only policy.
President Bush fares a little better, though even in the US the semantic goal posts have changed. Pre-election, Bush actively used the term “privatisation” in relation to his proposed shake up of Social Security. It was, he said, a “top priority”. Then, when the election campaign took full swing, privatisation became “reform”. The top priority of Social Security became no priority in Bush’s victory speech. Iraq was everything. Democrats picked up the “p” word as a term of disgust for the administration’s strategy and continue to run with it. The most recently published Rose Garden press conference transcript proves the extent to which Bush is careful not to mention the “private” in relation to the “social”.
What is it that has forced this anti-privatising doublespeak onto the Western political right? Perhaps if our leaders were more eloquent in their defence of the things we hold dear we’d vote for them again. By making a free trade issue central to his election campaign Koizumi is asking for a mandate to dismantle a state monopoly. In this at least the Japanese PM deserves our respect. Now, Mr. Koizumi, about Kyoto…