Sunday, March 24, 2013

The view from here: Griffith in 2013 (no. 1.5 in a series)

So just when you though it was safe...

I don't think anyone was surprised by last Thursday's leadership shenanigans. I think many of us were surprised about the way they unfolded however. That's the disappointing aspect I think. 

In the washup, this has not ended leadership speculation. In my political lifetime/timeline, I have watched and witnessed Fraser/Howard/Peacock, Howard/Peacock, Hayden/Hawke, Hawke/Keating, Howard/Costello and now Rudd/Gillard. Perhaps it is a function of the egos at this level, what it becomes is a frustrating turn of events for voters of both sides. 

Anyway, with Kevin Rudd's 'declaration' that he will not, under any circumstances, contest the Labor leadership again, the focus of this series of posts as planned last week will change. I will take a few more days to review what I had ready to go this evening. 

I still think it is worth looking at the history of the seat and at Kevin Rudd's figures, as much as one can retrieve them from the data base. What I am now interested in though is the state electorate overlays. Rumours are already around that he might well be 'drafted' for the state premiership, to take on Campbell Newman and the LNP.

The seat of Griffith also covers prime inner city state seats including Greenslopes, Bulimba, Chatsworth, South Brisbane and Yeerongpilly. From the figures, we might be able to glean which of these seats might be his strongest bet, should he go that way. I shall rejig the posts to account for these changed circumstances. I will also be keeping my ears out in the local places to gauge the feeling of Mr Rudd's constituents. I'm expecting to see many more giveaway bikes and local media pieces.

The bigger lesson one draws from this however, is the sadness one feels as an observer and commentator and, as a voter, a participant in the political process. On one level this past week, what we witnessed was a sad corruption of process. The leadership struggles come across as nothing more than personal aggrandisement and selfish pursuit of power. This is not what our politics should be about. 

I couldn't help but fear this week that Hobbes might have been right...but the Kantian struggle continues regardless. Anon.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The view from here : Griffith in 2013 (no. 1 in a series)

The confidence of Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister

One of the aims of this blog when I started it just over a year ago (was I supposed to light a candle on its first birthday last month?) was to muse on politics as I follow it here and in Japan, with a nod to the social contract from time to time. It also allows me to explore ideas and put forward some observations outside the usual strictures of the formal academic sphere. (I have to say, the hits on the blog suggest a far higher 'viewing' rate than the formal citations system by which our careers can be judged.) 

One of my early posts was about my local member, Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister for a time and now a peripatetic backbencher (though I don't mean that in the Aristotelian sense of the word). Things are getting sufficiently interesting in Australian politics to take another moment to look at what is going on in this electorate. Over the next couple of posts I will offer some on-the-ground observations and some background on the seat including its history and a little bit of psephological insight. The talk is on again about a challenge to the Labor Party leadership and so therefore, the prime ministership, until the election, currently due on 14 September.

Let the games begin
Mr Rudd currently holds his seat by 8.5%. That has fluctuated over time, but should be considered reasonably safe. The enigma that is the politics involving Kevin Rudd is that he enjoys high popularity across a number of different opinion polls when the public is asked, reasonable popularity in his electorate but loathed by a large number of Cabinet colleagues, the people who will return him to the prime ministership. I am intrigued by the conundrum inherent in these figures. 

So what (as my supervisor would say)? There are several questions I seek to ask around this conundrum over the next few months, while reporting from the Griffith heartland as much as possible. 

The Liberal National Party (as it is known here in Queensland now) have put forward a candidate, Dr Bill Glasson, who brings to the position a reasonable media profile as a former president of the AMA, the doctors' union. He and his supporters are already on the hustings around the electorate, spending many a Saturday morning on street corners, waving placards. Dr Glasson received some unanticipated publicity on Friday last too when it was revealed his campaign was subject to some 'assistance' by way of a University exercise whereby students were asked to devise a winning campaign for him. 

When it comes to campaigning on the ground, Mr Rudd covers the local media very well. The local throwaway suburban paper the Southeast Advertiser carries his regular 'Rudd Report' and generally any photos or news of his engagement in the electorate, whether it is giving away his 'Rudd bikes' or handing out 'language awards'. One could be cynical about the purpose behind these activities, but I'm going to withhold cynicism from these next few posts. 

Kevin Rudd launching Troy Bramston's book,
16 March 2013.
I observed the former prime minister quite closely yesterday at a book launch in a local bookshop. I don't pretend to know Kevin Rudd although he has been my local member since 1998. To understand where I come from when it comes to Mr Rudd, I suggest you read the earlier post. Nonetheless, I have watched politics from the front row for a while now. And although I was sitting in the back row yesterday, I saw a man with unrequited ambition, a sense that the prime ministership was still his to be had. There was also a slightly humbled man, that look one has when one has been 'hit for six', and I reflected on how public that had been for him. (My personal career humiliations and disappointments have been much less public, but they hurt nonetheless, and they leave deep impressions, no matter how hard one tries to disguise them.) What drives someone to continue to want to do this? I got to thinking a little about the contest ahead and the vote I will cast in a few months. It is more than a mere 'place a number' in the box...

I am not the sort of political scientist who makes predictions and these posts will not present any. I will be watching this contest closely because it is my federal electorate and much rests on its outcome. Who wins or loses the two imminent contests--that for leader of the Labor Party (and with it the prime ministership) and that for Griffith--will indeed tell us as much about us as it will about the candidates. It will convey to us our modern social contract and whether or not the 'first among equals' of the Westminster traditions has been usurped by a shallow 'survivor'-type reality politics, game of drones.

In the next post, I will review the history of the electorate, past members and contests. There will be some meandering among the musings, but bear with me. I think we are in for a most interesting time here in Griffith. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A return to where it began: an anomaly structure

On the way to Philosophers' Road, in Kyoto

Some reflections of the Japanese year ahead

There's been a little bit of loving neglect at this little place. There's been a lot of work going on in other places while my ideas on Japan's politics and the year ahead have chugged away in the background. Classes have started again too so I really do want to start putting down some thoughts again, here where it all began. 

I thought I might begin with reviewing some of the notes I made on the Japanese election back in December, having arrived just a couple of days afterwards.

I arrived on Wednesday and had a good conversation with our taxi driver on the way home. He was disappointed with the result overall and surprised by the extent of the DPJ loss, He was also very cynical about of role of religious parties in this case the Komei and held quite a strong view that there is no place for mixing religion and politics. 

The driver opened up about Makiko TANAKA, daughter of a former prime minister (Kakuei TANAKA), and who lost her seat in this election. If you 'forget your supporters, they'll forget you' he said. She just became aloof from the people who supported her. 

He was also concerned about the downturn in the economy. 'Tobikomi' incidents have increased (people throwing themselves in front of trains) and he spoke at some length about the depressed state of the economy: people aren't using taxis anywhere near the extent they have previously especially at this time of year with end of year parties and the like; people are just going to the first round of drinks and not going on for further rounds, something as a student I recall, the 'hashigo' ...what we might call a bit of a pub crawl. It was a good long chat and 3500 yen later we parted our ways. 

LDP seeks to reclaim the party rooms in the parliament
Before the week was out, there was some strong resonance with the actions of the Liberal Democrats and Queensland's Newman Government when the leaders of the LDP made quite a fuss about regaining 'their' rooms in Parliament House...right down to analysts commentating on the interior of the building, showing the 'real estate' and how it was configured across the parties and with the new seats. Remember the LNP Government in Queensland palming the opposition to rooms in another building? That sort of thing. 

Some interesting signals were being sent in this post-election week as satisfaction that the Nikkei index was back into the 10000 mark was attributed to Abe's reelection and yet, the 'feeling on the ground' was that the average person was feeling less than optimistic. A neologism was coined: 'Abenomics'

Thee was a minor tremor Thursday morning to remind me where I am because a visit to Tokyo is never complete without an small earthquake

But perhaps it was just a sign of the nepotism as PM Abe offers a significant position in his office to the nephew of a former business leader, Keidanren's Imai san.

Final numbers declared: LDP 294, DPJ 57, Ishin 54, Komei 31, Minna 18, mirai 9, JCP 8, Shamin 2, Taichi 1, Kokumin 1, Non-aligned 5; a big recovery in seats for the LDP. Already there is discussion about the next election, an upper house election due in July 2013. 

A sign I came across in Kyoto.
No, I don't know what it means either but it managed to capture
 a certain 'something' about the zeitgeist. 
In a newspaper poll taken 17-18 Dec, 57% thought the change was good; 51% have some expectation of Abe, though 42% don't. The same poll suggests it wasn't so much a win for the LDP (only 7% support their policies) but 81% were disappointed in the DPJ's policies.

Some letters to the editor in the Asahi Shimbun could be written by Australians: a 22 yo student wrote that of four friends sitting and chatting, two voted and two didn't. One said he voted the way his mother did, the other disappointed that no party opposed the consumption tax (a kind of GST). Noted that social media was the way to speak to young people since they don't read newspapers. Would like to be able to vote via the Internet. Finished saying that rather than say young people aren't interested in politics, perhaps it is politics that isn't making the effort to reach young people?

The AERA newsmagazine special issue this week contains a couple of interesting articles. One in particular looks at the promise of politics of the future with the election of a number of politicians under 40. Journalists and a commentators Keats like to focus on a particular group, previously it's been women candidates. This time however, it is this group. Of 271 candidates, 48 (17.7%) were elected in the single member electorates and 78 (28.8%) were elected in the PR electorate. There's also something interesting about the 'third wave' discussions, particularly with the Ishin no Kai party and what's to come of it. There will be some interesting material to follow up with here. 

Two weeks later, the first week of the new year, there is something of a forced optimism...a new government so great expectations on the one hand but at the same time a sense of frustration that it is Abe Mark II; so while the yen is up and the Nikkei is sitting in the 10,000 area, there are nonetheless doubts about change really happening.

We also seem to be upping the ante over the disputed islets between China and Japan, Abe might force a change in the Constitution to manage this. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail. 

In other news this new year's week, we mark the demise after one month of the Kada/Ozawa party 'Mirai no To', literally translated as the 'Future Party'; instead, they called it the 'Tomorrow Party', I guess there wasn't a future in it after all.

To the next few months
PM Abe has made his initial visit to the United States. The Senkaku/ Daiyou dispute continues to play out. (I think about the paper I presented last year at a conference on this very issue, before it escalated...I must get it published.) There is a new president of the Bank of Japan...someone more compliant to the Abe Government agenda? Let's see.

And this week of course, sees the second anniversary of the Tohoku tsunami/earthquake and radiation fallout. It will be a sombre week for Japan and a test I think for the Abe Government as it feels, I suspect, the great expectations that people will put on this government to finally do something. It was this immobilism which contributed to the DPJ loss; the LDP, as opposition parties are wont to do, made great political mileage out of this. Now, it will be their turn...this week will tell us much about that I think.