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The third way on

Class differences are no longer crucial. Here are five proposals for the renewal of the left in the age of globalization.


[chronicle] The long goodbye is finally over and the UK has a new prime minister. Gordon Brown is in. Tony Blair is out. Will the latter's distinct political philosophy, known as "the third way", disappear with him?

To answer that question, we must first dispel some myths about what this philosophy was – and still is – about. We should not read too much into the concept itself. The third way is just a label pasted on the need to update left-wing thinking in light of the world upheavals of our time. This is especially true of the impact of globalization.

Brown will go on. The "first way" was the traditional left, more specifically a social democracy that dominated political thought and action in the first years after World War II. It was based on John Maynard Keyne's economic theories, and on the state taking over for the free market in the essential economic fields. This approach proved to be less effective as the economy became more globalized, and the state increasingly proved to be both inefficient and bureaucratic clumsy. This opened the way for the fundamentalist market "the other way", Thatcherism. Supporters of this thought that the market reach should embrace as wide as possible, because it is precisely the market that offers the most rational and efficient way to distribute resources.

Thatcherism produced some important innovations, and restored the British economic competitiveness. Yet it, too, had to give way as the inherent limitations became apparent. With Margaret Thatcher at the helm, Britain's poverty and social inequality increased more than in most other industrialized countries in the same period. Due to the strong focus on privatization, public services shrank. Thatcher's legacy became a society with growing social and economic disparities, as well as declining public institutions. At this time, it was imperative to find a third alternative – a political approach that was able to reconcile economic competitiveness with social protection, and which could address the fight against poverty.

For some, the third way is all about slogans and empty rhetoric, a political mindset devoid of content. They couldn't be more wrong. The Labor Party has, for the first time in its history, won three straight elections, and is absolutely capable of winning a fourth, precisely because the third road is so rich in political lines. Gordon Brown is probably not going to use the term, and because of the frequent misunderstandings about its content, I have also chosen to leave it at that. But that's out of the question

Gordon to go back to Old Labor and he will surely follow today's political direction. Under him comes the third way framework

to be further developed. This framework is based on the following policy

main lines:

1. Turn the center to the left. First, it is important to maintain control over the center voters. There is no longer any social democratic party that can win elections today by appealing to class differences. The point is to turn the political center to the left, something Labor has done over the last ten years. During his time as prime minister, Tony Blair could say goodbye to four Tory leaders who disputed Thatcher's policies. The Conservative Party, for its part, has managed to get back on track by accepting how important public services are to society. They have supported the health care system, agreed that the number of poor people must be reduced, and have accepted that these goals are incompatible with tax cuts.

2. Strong economy. Line number two is about maintaining a strong economy. Social justice depends on a robust economy, not the other way around. Brown's strength, of course, is that he has delivered at this point. Former Labor governments have, almost without exception, found themselves in financial crisis after only a few years in power.

3. Reforms. Third, it must invest heavily in public services, but at the same time ensure that this is coordinated with reforms. This ensures efficiency, responsiveness and transparency. To achieve these goals, freedom of choice and competition are necessary, which are prerequisites for implementing reforms and giving power to the citizens who use the services. Brown will maintain this focus as strongly as his predecessor.

4. Responsibility and rights. The fourth principle is about creating a new contract between the state and the inhabitants, based on responsibility as well as rights. The authorities must provide the resources necessary for individuals to shape their own lives, but have the right to expect something in return. For example, unemployment insurance has previously been an unconditional right. Such a scheme does not encourage personal responsibility and helps keep people out of the labor market. Those who lose their jobs should be responsible for actively looking for new work, and have access to retraining when needed.

5. Civil rights and national security. The fifth and final point is the most controversial of them all, yet central to Labour's success: Don't let the right-wing parties seize any of the issues. This too will be continued by Brown. The right side has always tended to dominate areas such as law and justice, immigration and terrorism, so we need to find solutions to these problems to the left of the center. We live in an increasingly globalized world and need to strike a balance between civil rights and national security. Labor has often been criticized for undermining our personal freedom, but these days, there is no country that can handle this balancing process without problems.

Gordon Brown is going to walk the third way. In fact, all the world's successful leaders on the left are doing the same. This does not mean that he has stopped looking for new political guidelines, or does not want to make changes. He has to. As he himself has said, "mistakes have been made" – not only a catastrophic blunder in foreign policy, but in many matters at home as well. For example, Labor has not done enough to remedy the inequalities in society, and Brown will have to reconsider the issue of civil rights. What he does not want to do is abandon the basic ideas that have changed the country's political appearance. ■

Anthony Giddens is a sociologist and one of the ideologues behind New Labor.

He has written the book Over to You, Mr Brown:

How Labor Can Win Again, published by Polity Press.

Translated by Camilla Marie øberg

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