The ideas associated with the third way are still the wave of the future for progressive politicsby Tony Blair / March 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
From latin america to Europe to parts of Asia, third way politics, or “progressive government” as some describe it, is exerting a huge influence on global politics. Parties and governments struggling to make sense of a new world, yet determined to cling on to a belief in social justice, have used the third way as a means of modernising their approach to politics whilst holding true to fundamental values. For the most part they have succeeded. In the process, they have spoken directly to the many people who embrace the modern world but are apprehensive about its effects on them: people who are torn between wanting the benefits of new technology, but fear its consequences, people who want more individual choice but regret the loss of community.
Ironically in Britain, where New Labour pioneered some of these ideas, the third way is often disparaged as “meaningless,” “reheated liberalism,” “neither one thing nor the other.” In a manner wearily familiar to practitioners of centre-left politics, the left has joined in the attack mounted by the right. For the right to attack is eminently sensible: nothing is more threatening to its political prospects than the spectre of a centre-left not merely electorally revitalised but, after the collapse of communism, ideologically regenerated. But for the left itself to join in is a curious form of self-mutilation. Constructive criticism is healthy; lazy negativism is not.
I want to lay to rest some of the myths around the third way. It is not a third way between conservative and social democratic philosophy. It is social democracy renewed. It is firmly anchored in the tradition of progressive politics and the values which have motivated the democratic left for more than a century. It is a third way for Britain because it represents a third phase of post-war history-following the settlements of 1945 and 1979. It is a third way for the left too. In the last century, the tradition of social liberalism emphasised individual freedom in a market economy. Social democracy used the power of government to advance social justice. The third way works to combine their commitments in a relevant way for the 21st century.
The new progressive politics has two driving concepts behind it. First it defines a new role for collective action-national and local government, voluntary and community organisations, trade unions-which advances the interests of the individual. The purpose of such action…