New Labour does not have a convincing story to tell about the left's most important value-equality. In practice its "third way" approach means trying to improve conditions for the worst off but otherwise accepting market outcomes. Does Tony Blair's idea of community require something more ambitious?by Michael Prowse / January 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
New labour favours greater equality. It wants to create a society less unequal than that which it inherited from the Conservatives. But there is confusion both about how equality should be defined and about the kinds of inequality which can feasibly be reduced in a world characterised by global capitalism and rapid technological change. An open and honest debate about the nature of social justice and equality has become unavoidable if New Labour is to have any prospect of devising a “third way” which transcends the limitations of both old-style social democracy and market liberalism.
Politicians and thinkers on the centre left are beginning to recognise the need for constructive thinking about equality. In his speech to the Labour party conference in September, Tony Blair tried hard to appear progressive on the issue. He said that his goal for Britain was nothing short of “true equality,” which he defined as the creation of a society in which every individual is recognised as being of “equal worth.” He did not spell out what this might mean, but it seemed to imply not just equal rights and responsibilities, but also an equal chance of fulfilment. And he denied that his notion of “true equality” represents any kind of betrayal of Labour party values, even though it appears to sidestep traditional concerns about the distribution of income and wealth. He was, he claimed, simply advocating a different means of achieving the aspirations of the founding fathers: a means adapted to present circumstances.
In the New Statesman a few weeks later, Anthony Giddens, the director of the London School of Economics and guru of the third way, laid out his latest thoughts on equality. On the cover, his article is billed as an answer to the problem of “How to tame the fat cats.” But you do not have to read far to discover the editor’s irony. Giddens is not interested in taming fat cats; he believes that the very idea is a discredited socialist dogma. His article continues the campaign he began in his book, The Third Way, to persuade social democrats of the need to adapt to the realities of global capitalism. This requires a revision of the left’s concept of equality, he argues. Social democrats must learn to stop worrying about economic inequality and take pride in the fact that other kinds of inequalities-such as that between men and women-are diminishing.…