After 30 years of shuffling and blurring, the centre left in the US thinks it has established a new hard-edged progressive creed. Stephen Pollard considers the claim that it will dominate for a generation and asks whether New Labour can follow suitby Stephen Pollard / June 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Rollerblading hit london in 1994, having started in the US in 1989. It takes five years for trends to cross the Atlantic, so we can be pretty sure that Britain will go to the polls in 1997, and that Tony Blair will be elected by an anxious middle class.
The rest should be similarly predictable: the Conservatives will turn to a figure on the right wing of the party who is said by the press to have “mad, staring eyes.” In the 1999 local elections, a rejuvenated Tory party will sweep the board under John Redwood. But within a year the electorate will realise that it doesn’t have the stomach for it. In the absence of any alternative, Blair will win a second term in 2001.
US political trends affect us whether or not we copy them. The best book ever written on modern American politics is Why Americans Hate Politics, by Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne. His latest book is the best of the recent spate of “why it’s our turn now” books from Democrat commentators: a combination of contemporary history (what Clinton did), criticism (what he should have done), analysis (why he didn’t do it) and prescription (what he should do now), overlaid with a virtuoso dissection of the intellectual underpinnings of the Democrats and the GOP. Dionne’s thesis is that today’s Republicanism is a flawed combination of 19th century economic liberalism and social authoritarianism. Only a reborn progressivism-whose purpose is not to undermine the market but “to create the social conditions in which the market can work well in its proper sphere”-has the potential to deliver what American voters want.
This is not a vain hope. “Our time combines social change with moral crisis, enormous economic opportunity with great economic dislocation and distress. It most closely resembles the period 1870 to 1900, which led to the progressive era.”
It is not just European social democrats who had the rug pulled from under them when communism collapsed. For many Americans the notion that there was more to be said for capitalism than they had previously allowed was unsettling, too. Democrats began to recognise that their arguments in defence of government’s necessary role often slipped into advocacy of government for its own sake.
But as David Brooks put it in Commentary last year, liberalism has gone through so many redefinitions-“30 years of shuffling have blurred the creed, so…