Guide The Third Way

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Changes in the family, he adds, are the result of complex social and technical factors, not moral decay. Great emphasis is placed on education -- not only to gain knowledge but to adapt to inevitable change. His admonition that rights come hand in hand with responsibilities is also refreshing.

He acknowledges that unemployment compensation may actually raise joblessness. By fusing responsibility with entitlement and including the have-nots in society, he believes, government can get around this dilemma. More frustrating is that the book offers only a general philosophical discussion, not a program for action.

A brief history of the third way

It also holds more relevance for a British audience than for an American one. As a manifesto for Tony Blair's New Labour, however, it provides a concise outline of the "third way. What about Blair's European counterparts? They both agreed that they had managed to reconcile continental social democracy and that their new ideology should guarantee power for Europe's centre-left for years to come. What's the state of play now?

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Three years on, however, the outlook for the third way looks bleak. What was the third way all about? The so-called third way is New Labour's attempt to build itself an ideological foundation. In the face of accusations that the decision to re-christen the party and re-write clause IV was motivated purely by electoralism, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson sought to prove their ideological convictions. Our values define our enemies.

BBC News | UK Politics | What is the Third Way?

Cynicism and fatalism, prejudice and social exclusion: these are the enemies of talent and ambition, of aspiration and achievement. Cynicism, claiming that politics and public service cannot improve the quality of our lives. Fatalism that says global markets have wrested the economy beyond our influence. Prejudice, denying equal worth and encouraging snobbery and xenophobia.

Social exclusion, limiting or denying opportunities on a scale unacceptable in a fair and open society. What of policy? Our approach is "permanent revisionism", a continual search for better means to meet our goals, based on a clear view of the changes taking place in advanced industrialised societies. Over the past 50 years two major political projects have dominated politics in Britain and many other Western democracies - neo-liberalism and a highly statist brand of social democracy. They have been applied in different ways, according to history, culture and political choice, but the broad intellectual currents are clear.

Britain has experienced both in full- blooded form. That is why the term "Third Way" has particular relevance, and it is on the basis of British experience since the watershed of the Second World War that I now draw. The Labour government elected in was shaped by the legacy of wartime conditions and of pre-war depression and poverty. It proceeded, with a landslide majority and wide public consent, to nationalise industry, manage demand, direct economic activity and expand health and social services on an unprecedented scale.

These policies achieved steady and high growth, and a fairer distribution of the benefits of growth.

They fitted well with a world of secure jobs, large firms, low unemployment, relatively closed national economies and strong communities underpinned by stable families. Conservative governments of the Fifties made no attempt to dismantle the Attlee settlement, beyond sniping at the edges of the nationalised sector. Yet as the Seventies advanced, post-war social democracy proved steadily less viable. The NHS and much of the welfare state remained - and remain - formidable achievements, at once cost-effective and transformative in their impact on the quality of life for the less well-off.

But demand management and very high levels of state ownership and direction became increasingly ineffective at promoting growth and containing unemployment in a world of growing competition, external shocks and industrial and technological change. Social democracy proved too inflexible in response. In particular, it was too inefficient and low quality in its provision of public services, notably those such as education, telecommunications and other utilities where it was the near-monopoly supplier.

The Sixties was a decade of personal liberation.


But individualism was not taking hold of just the private sphere: it spread rapidly to the realm of political economy. By the early Eighties, neo-liberalism had taken deep root in the form of the Thatcher government. Some of its reforms were, in retrospect, necessary acts of modernisation, particularly the exposure of much of the state industrial sector to reform and competition. But it went hand-in-hand with a visceral antipathy to the remaining public sector, damaging key national services, notably education and health, even as the ministers preached the language of national competitiveness and individual self-improvement.

By the mid-Nineties, the wheel had turned again - not back to a statist social democratic model, but towards a realisation that the dogmatism of the neo-liberal right had become a serious threat to national cohesion.

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Too many people were losing out; too many companies were under-performing; too many public services were failing through inattention; and too many communities were endangered by the rise of crime, unemployment and social exclusion. And as the evidence mounted, the right proved increasingly obtuse in its failure to act - indeed, in its positive desire not to act in key areas such as education and social exclusion for fear of the ideological implications.

Just as economic and social change were critical to sweeping the right to power, so they were critical to its undoing. Around the world, governments are seeking to meet the demands of contemporary society. I believe that one of these demands is for a renewal of politics, for a new politics. But the choice of the new politics is not abstract.

It is a choice which is already being made, in practice. In Britain, New Labour is the new politics. The challenge is to turn change into progress. We cannot rely on historical inevitability; we have to do it for ourselves. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists?

Criticism and the future of the Third Way

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The third way of the British New Labour

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