Why Being Third Isn’t Good Enough: A Critique of the ‘Third Way’

Peter Hand

Originally published in 1998/1999, Issue 1

With the election of Tony Blair to Downing Street in May 1997, there was indeed a great deal of anticipation as to what exactly this ‘New’ Labour government would do to put some life back into Britain.  Ever since the jubilation’s of victory on May the 1’s’ however, these promises have increasingly evaporated.

For a government so keen on ‘sound-bite’ over substance, gimmicks over values and image over principle, the early indications were, that this was a government void of any real beliefs.  Apart from a desire to win – a means in itself – it has been very difficult to pinpoint what exactly is this government’s philosophy.  This indeed has been the case from the ‘peoples’ Prime Minster’, to the people themselves.  For example, we started off with ‘Cool Britannia’, designed to represent the ‘new’ spirit of this Labour government, whereby what the British people had previously done was no longer ‘cool’ enough for the spin doctors in Millbank Tower.  Even Noel Gallagher was invited to Number Ten Downing Street, to take part in one of Tony’s House parties – all at the taxpayers expense of course.  It was indeed a most ludicrous state of affairs, with a PM in his early forties attempting to deal with his midlife crisis by inviting young famous celebrities, to take part in his ‘new’ project.  He even changed his hairstyle, but surprisingly, opted for the more traditional Caesar style cut, all this from Britain’s new and dynamic incumbent at Number Ten.  So ‘Cool Britannia’ came and went, rather like Harriet Harman and Frank Field left Social Security, it was deemed to be unsuccessful and really amounting to not much at all.

And then emerged a ‘new’ sound bite with greater substance than anything that had gone before it.  It was to be regarded as the philosophical bedrock of the government, with as much conviction as Thatcherism, the appeal of ‘New’ Labour and the charisma of Tony Blair.  That’s right, enter ‘The Third Way’.  A most interesting concept, especially when one considers, that for all its importance it failed to warrant a single mention in Labour’s Manifesto for the last election.  The Third Way is either too good to mention so early, or so irrelevant as to bore the electorate.  Whatever the reasons for its absence, it has now entered centre stage in Blairs’ scheme of things.

But what exactly is the ‘Third Way’?  For this is indeed its fundamental problem, it’s very difficult to define, it has no set values or principles and is not deeply rooted in anywhere in British political thinking.  Some claim that it is a new philosophy, somewhere between the old ways of Socialism and the harsh realities of Neo-Liberalist Thatcherism.  But this is indeed a myth, ‘The Third Way’ is lost in its own self-importance, somewhat oblivious to what is happening in the ‘real’ world around it.

By talking of the ‘Third Way’, it suggests that there is an alternative to Thatcherism and Socialism.  Far from it, Socialism failed years ago, with the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and Russia.  There is no altemative, Neo-Liberalism has triumphed, and so the ‘left’ in Britain attempts to deal with this failure, by pretending that there is indeed an alternative.  This is indeed a fallacy.  In reality, it is as many claim, merely Thatcherism with a smiley face.  Privatisation an essential tenet of Thatcherism – has become a great British export, the ‘Third Way’ hasn’t even made it out of London.  The British people – like our export markets – expect the best, they want to be first, quite frankly, being ‘Third’ isn’t good enough.

Lets then, look at the reality of the Third Way for the British people.  When it comes to our dealings with the EU, the introduction of the job destroying social chapter, and all its extra regulations and bureaucracy, it seems quite clear, that the ‘Third Way’ is more about giving way.  When it comes to the reform of the welfare state, it seems to mean what way?.  When it comes to listening to the plight of British industry it is No way and when it comes to the control freak tendency of Mr Blair it quite clearly is, I’ll do it my way.  Either way, the ‘Third Way’ is hitting Britain. I suppose even when Tony Blair referred to himself as the ‘peoples’ Prime Minister’, he did not expect it to resonate so true.  For indeed his government has been tough on Britain, tough on the people of Britain.

There is also the Jenkins Commission, designed to reform our electoral system.  In reality the ‘Third Way’, is about doing away with our great model democracy, by gerrymandering the system, to take away our right to choose our own Members of Parliament and our own government.  The ‘Third Way’ then, is about undermining democracy.  For this indeed is the case, in the manner and way in which Mr Blair is successfully using the ‘Third Way’ to destroy any opposition to his plans, and once again weaken democracy.

For example, the Liberal Democrats – or at least Mr Ashdown – has been convinced that he is ‘important’ enough and now has a position on a government cabinet committee.  Hence forth, Paddy and his fellow chums can hardly be in a position to criticise a government, when indeed they are playing a part in the formulation of its policies.  Hence the old dictum has come true, to vote Liberal, is in effect a vote for Labour.  This tactic then has successfully silenced Liberal opposition.  It now means, that in the future if Blairs’ left wingers become a bit boisterous, Blair can call on Paddy and co, and any measures can be passed through the Commons.  The ‘Third Way’ then, is about calling on the third party to get Tony out of trouble.

So to conclude, ‘The Third Way’ is not so much a new ideology, but more a new tactic, whereby Mr Blairs’ ego can be accommodated somewhat, with him thinking that he does indeed have a ‘vision’.  For in reality Mr Blair has only ever focused on one thing, the attainment of power – power at any price.  Hence the reason he ditched all of his party’s principles, to get that power.  Even once in power we see further signs of the control freak tendency at work, along with an ever greater concentration of power at Downing Street, and the emergence of spin-doctoring.  Even with the spread of devolution, Mr Blair still wants to keep control of power.  Dennis Kavanan can’t be a candidate to the Scottish Assembly.  ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone can’t be mayor of London and Rhodri Morgan can’t be leader of the Welsh Assembly.  Mr Blair cannot have it both ways.  The desire for power purely for its own sake – represents a new arrogance in British politics, whereby certain people feel only they can do the job properly.  Hence, since May 1st last year, Blair has concentrated on one task, winning the next General Election.  If power has indeed gone to his, and his governments head, ‘The Third Way’ is an attempt for them to keep that power for longer.