September 19th, 2006


So farewell, then, Lionheart

Here's how I saluted the arrival of Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister of Japan five years ago.

Wow, was his hair really that black? Forgive me mentioning the hair so soon, but it's important in the Koizumi story. His elegant Victorian lion's mane was crucial to his rise. It, along with a courageous determination to push through "painful reforms", gave Koizumi the nickname "Lionheart", a name he embraced happily and titled his regular email bulletins after. Just as he was the first post-war Japanese prime minister with good hair, so he was the first post-war Japanese prime minister with charisma: Koizumi is a ladies' man, a snappy dresser with a dry sense of humour and a whispery-cool Clint Eastwood-style voice.

Personally, although I like Koizumi's manner and style, I don't at all like what he's done. As a fan of nationalization and grands projets -- the kind of big non-military public spending projects that French presidents are so good at, but that the running-dog lackeys of the bourgeois Anglo-press love to describe as "pork barrelling" -- I'm pretty disgusted at Koizumi's record of cuts and privatizations. I hate the way he parachuted celebrity "assassins" (including subsequently-disgraced internet mogul Takafumi Horie) in to glitz his way to postal privatization, despite the fact that the bill was legitimately rejected by the Japanese chamber.

I'm also disgusted that Koizumi went back on Japan's constitutional renunciation of military involvement and sent Japanese troops to George Bush's disastrous war in Iraq. It seems to me that, in all these actions, Koizumi resembles no-one so much as Tony Blair, another politician who uses charisma and glitz to mask a pretty cynical bling-agenda consisting mostly of handing over public resources to a tiny band of corpora-crats. This craven renunciation of all the duties of what I understand by "politics" has, alas, come to be called "liberalization" and "reform". It's far from those things, because there can be no reform which fails to resist the vested interest of the truly powerful.

Much has been made of Koizumi's friendship with George Bush; his trips to Graceland to hang with the ghost of Elvis Presley, his waltz with Richard Gere. I agree with the BBC when they say that he would have been wiser to nurture better relations with Chinese ghosts, Chinese actors and Chinese politicians. But something I do appreciate is the limit on Koizumi's American friendship. It's been largely tokenesque. The troops in Iraq were few. And there's been no sign of Japanese TV being flooded with cheap American imports, or Rupert Murdoch being given a major foothold in Japan.

As for Japan's next prime minister, due to be elected tomorrow, well, he's massively likely to be Koizumi's hair, sorry, heir apparent, Shinzo Abe, a man I've already dubbed "the world's first robot prime minister". No, he won't stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. Yes, he does use a Mac. And yes, his basic agenda is spelled out in Unix code on the wall behind him:

"./configure --with-passion=/home/abe/blood... make proud_japan".