Saturday, September 5, 2009

The LDP's first steps towards a new party

A week after the Liberal Democratic Party suffered its first ever electoral defeat, a new party is already taking shape from the ashes.

The biggest change, of course, is the final demise of the factions as a force within the party. As Koike Yuriko said earlier this week upon announcing her departure from the Machimura faction, "The age of the factions is over."

Having already given way to ideological groupings before the election, it is increasingly likely that LDP members will associate more with others sharing their ideas instead of joining factions. Nakagawa Hidenao, an important player in this transition before the election who called for the dissolution of the factions earlier this week, has announced that he will call a meeting of reformists — including Shiozaki Yasuhisa, former chief cabinet secretary — on Monday.

Yamauchi Koichi, a former LDP member who won a PR seat this year for Watanabe Yoshimi's Your Party, has some thoughts about ideological groups within the LDP. One, he says, is the "pure conservative" group of hawks clustered around Aso Taro and Abe Shinzo, about which he says that in their focus upon ideological conflict with the left wing — symbolized by their hatred for Nikkyoso — they will have a difficult time broadening the party's popularity. Another group, led, he says, would be a "liberal" group. Led by Tanigaki Sadakazu, it would resemble the DPJ, with a focus on regions and the creation of a "twentieth-century-style" welfare state. (I'm not quite sure what he means by the label twentieth-century-style.) The third, led by Nakagawa and Shiozaki, is a neo-liberal group, emphasizing small government, administrative reform, economic growth, and free markets. Yamauchi makes clear that he approves of the third as providing the best contrast with the DPJ, which he caricatures as a pork-barreling, big government and twentieth-century-style welfare state-supporting, anti-market, anti-American, anti-globalization political party.

Whatever one thinks as Yamauchi's ideas about which path the LDP should take, his classification scheme is useful. In the forthcoming party election, LDP members will pick one of these courses.

The least coherent is Yamauchi's second group, the "liberal" group. Revealingly, Tanigaki's candidacy for the LDP presidency has the backing of Mori Yoshiro, whose power within the party may have been enhanced by his having narrowly won his single-member district last week — even though Tanigaki does not yet have the support of his own faction, the Koga faction. That Mori would indicate his support for a candidate not from his Machimura faction is a sign of that the power of factions is weakening, but it also suggests that the liberal group is not quite liberal — rather it is the "change as little as possible" group. What, after all, is Mori's ideology? Under the leadership of this group, the LDP's ideological identity would be blurry. While the other two choices would pursue a course of opposing the DPJ at every turn, drawing sharp distinctions between the LDP and the DPJ, the middle group would be a bit more "constructive," answering the government's plans with drafts of its own, perhaps using foreign policy as the issue to separate the two parties.

In short, the LDP's debates are going to resemble the DPJ's debates over the past decade. Should the LDP be "constructivist" or "oppositionist?" The problem for the LDP is that the "oppositionist" line preferred by the conservatives and neo-liberals concedes considerable ground to the DPJ in policy terms, because it means focusing on issues that are less important to the Japanese public than the issues stressed by the DPJ. But this may be a temporary problem.

If the DPJ is successful in power, the oppositionists will be eventually forced to adapt or will be eliminated as the LDP struggles to return to power. Much as the Labour Party became New Labour and the Conservatives have become New Labour-Lite under David Cameron, so the LDP will be forced to become a new LDP that both accepts the changes introduced by a DPJ government and finds a way to critique the DPJ for the inevitable policy failures and corruption scandal that will emerge the longer the party stays in power.

But for now, the oppositionist approach may be the most satisfying as the party tries to reorganize after defeat. I expect that LDP members may be tempted to support a strict oppositionist candidate in this month's presidential election, which would be a natural continuation of the demonization of the DPJ that was central to the party's general election campaign strategy. Will Ishiba Shigeru, a policy wonk trying to position himself as the front runner in the race to replace Aso, be able to tap into the vein of resentment against the DPJ present in large portions of the party?

Ishiba doesn't fit comfortably in any of the aforementioned ideological veins. He is best known as a hawk and a self-described "defense otaku," but he is a defense policy wonk; his hawkishness differs from the cultural hawkishness of Abe and Aso, who view a strong defense more as a cultural imperative than as a "mere" policy matter. He is not particularly well-connected to the neo-liberal group, but he is not particularly traditionalist either. In short, he may be the perfect leader to revive the LDP — if not today, then eventually. He may have a hard time assembling the necessary votes this time around.

4 comments:

Noah said...

If the DPJ is successful in power, the oppositionists will be eventually forced to adapt or will be eliminated as the LDP struggles to return to power. Much as the Labour Party became New Labour and the Conservatives have become New Labour-Lite under David Cameron, so the LDP will be forced to become a new LDP,

I would not jump to that conclusion.

Recall that in the U.S., the Republican party responded to mid-century Democratic dominance not by becoming more moderate, but by turning itself into a crusading movement. The hawks, religious conservatives, and laissez-faire wings of the Republicans triumphed over the moderate "Rockefeller Republicans," nominating Goldwater in '68. Nor did Goldwater's loss stop the ascent of the hard right in the GOP; in fact, it probably accelerated it. And eventually, the Democrats made missteps and the Republicans took power.

The moral of the story is that seeking the center is not always the one and only winning long-term strategy...sometimes, moving the center turns out to be a better bet. Is the LDP's best strategy to become a DPJ clone? Or is it to turn into a hawkish, hyper-capitalist, culturally traditionalist party a la America's Republicans?

Curzon said...

Good post. My own personal observation -- I would further categorize the first group into two categories: a more aggressive and proactive group of "neocon" conservatives represented by Abe, and the old school traditional conservatives represented by Aso. Ishiba probably falls into the later group.

Hoofin said...

Noah, I just want to point out that Goldwater was nominated in 1964. He went down to a landslide defeat.

1968 was Nixon. He won primarily because the Democrats were split on Vietnam, and the South was ticked at them for Johnson's Civil Rights Act.

Nixon was arguably the last "New Deal"-style President (I think that was Tom Wicker's "One of Us").

You are right that Goldwater, in a sense, sewed the seeds for the conservatives to become dominant in the GOP. And that the print pattern of the 1968 election has been overlain on every Republican, general election presidential candidacy since then.

Tobias Harris said...

Noah,

Except that the Republican Party profited from the emergence of a conservative movement outside of the party system, which in turn profited from events that worked in their favor.

After the Goldwater disaster, the party returned to the hands of the Rockefeller Republicans, while the ideologues set to work building a movement.

Barring a major crisis that shifts the policy priorities of the Japanese people, turning into "a hawkish, hyper-capitalist, culturally traditionalist party a la America's Republicans" will forever be a dead end for the LDP. The LDP while in power had years to try to shift the consciousness of the Japanese people and yet foreign policy was still a top priority for a minute number of voters.

In any case, I'm not sure how good a model America is for Japanese politics anyway.

Curzon,

I'm not sure if I would separate Aso and Abe — I think they are two faces of the same movement. And arguably Ishiba really is too wonkish for the group.