Shadow Chancellor George Osborne is visiting Japan and India, and is keeping a diary for ConservativeHome. This is his
second entry (see previous).
If you think that opposition in Britain is tough, try Japan. The LDP
has been in power for over fifty years, with one brief interlude in
1993. So I wasn’t surprised when the opposition MPs who joined me for
breakfast described themselves as ‘idealists’. There hasn’t been a
united opposition in Japan until recently, and they are working towards
the goal of a two party system.
Half an hour outside Tokyo I arrived at the test track for the
"Superconducting MagLev". We first had a short technical briefing, and
quizzed the engineering team about the suitability of the global
ultra-fast technologies to the UK’s needs, and about the energy
efficiency of the system. The MagLev uses less than half of the energy
per passenger kilometre than a plane, and is better still than a car.
And since it uses electricity not fossil fuels, the energy itself can
be from low-carbon sources. Then for the test ride. Getting on is like
boarding an aircraft. It takes just ninety seconds to get up to full
speed, and it’s remarkably smooth – about the same as an InterCity at
Curiously it was even more impressive to watch from outside. In the
damp atmosphere it created a vapour trail like an aircraft. I had to
ask the inevitable question. They said it is designed to cope with
snow, and that any leaves on the line will simply get blown away.
Of course the major caveat to the project is cost. I was impressed that the project is almost entirely privately financed. It would cost us less than half the amount the Japanese will have to spend, because we do not need to proof the tracks from earthquakes. Neither would we need as many tunnels. And the Japanese team are working on reducing the manufacturing costs all the time.
After lunch with the engineering team, it was back to Tokyo. First I had an interview with the largest selling daily paper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, in which I stressed the importance of Anglo-Japanese co-operation on our many areas of mutual interest. As two of America’s closest allies, we have an important role to play, which can be strengthened through co-operation in the many areas we share mutual interest.
Then to the Bank of Japan, where I met Governor Fukui. He joined the Bank in 1958 – almost fifty years ago. I asked him about Japan’s economic recovery, and how it is working to improve its productivity performance. We discussed the economic reforms that Japan has pursued over the recent past which have enabled it finally to climb out of deflation. With improved, slimmed down, corporate performance and strengthened balance sheets, it confirmed my suspicion that we will face growing competition in the years ahead.
From the Bank to meet former Foreign Secretary Machimura at the Parliament building, before a small dinner with Aso-san, the current Foreign Secretary, Yosano-san the economic affairs secretary, and the chief executives of several large Japanese corporations, including Fuji and Mitsubishi. Aso-san and Yosano-san are both standing for the leadership, so we discussed how to run a leadership campaign. They, like us, face hustings around the country. Again we discussed how Britain and Japan can work together on the great global challenges we face.
Finally my first ride on the bullet train. First operated in 1964, it is tonight taking me from Tokyo to Kyoto – the same distance as London to Edinburgh – in two and a half hours.
It struck me today what a great interest there is in Japan in the growing success of the Conservative Party. I have been amazed at how closely Japanese politicians and business leaders have followed the changes we are making to the Party, and how we are rising in the polls. Naturally, I am very pleased that we are having an impact, especially as there are so many areas where we can work together in the future.