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Wednesday, 31 May, 2000, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
'Third Way' gets world hearing

Main proponents of the "Third Way" Blair and Clinton
By Political Analyst Gordon Corera

The set of political ideas, known loosely as "The Third Way" will have its widest airing yet with world leaders in Berlin on Saturday.

For President Clinton, who has only a few months left in office, this meeting offers a chance to establish himself as the father of a new global political model.

The meeting is being billed as a discussion of "progressive governance in the 21st century".

For advocates of the Third Way, it is a chance to move beyond the old dichotomy of left and right towards a progressive new political philosophy.

Culture clashes

Unlike previous seminars in which Third Way politics have been discussed, the Berlin meeting will be attended by the leaders of about a dozen nations.

Guest list:
New Zealand
South Africa
United States
But the Third Way - which has its roots in Anglo-American political models - may be difficult to apply to other countries.

British proponents have had enough trouble in convincing France that the US-UK model has some relevance to it, and so divining exactly how it applies to countries as diverse as Argentina, South Africa and Israel may prove tricky.

The German host of this event, Chancellor Schröder, himself backed off the Third Way after a joint manifesto he launched with Tony Blair was heavily criticised back home.

As for the French, they are especially sceptical about the Third Way idea, seeing it as a cover for the betrayal of socialist values in favour of the American free market.

One of the reasons that the title of this event is billed as the more vague "progressive governance" is that the French refused to attend anything that was too blatantly a Third Way jamboree.

But at Berlin, the leaders may struggle to define their collective philosophy in a way that does not make it so vague as to be meaningless.

Perhaps understanding this, Tony Blair - one of the leading proponents - has opted to stay away this time, preferring to spend time with his new born son.

What is the Third Way?

The vision of those behind the Third Way is the need to move away from what they see as a sterile debate between left and right - between those who favour either the state or the free market doing everything.

Instead, they are looking towards a new form of political philosophy that focuses on adapting economies and societies to the demands and pressures of globalisation.

In practise, the idea emerged in the US in the 1980s when a group called the Democratic Leadership Council was set up be people worried that the Democratic Party had drifted too far to the left, and needed to be brought back into the centre to appeal to a wider constituency.

This strategy culminated in 1992 when the Chairman of the DLC - Governor Bill Clinton - was elected President campaigning as a "New Democrat", stressing the themes of opportunity and responsibility and promoting programmes like welfare to work.

Some of the slogans - as well as specific policies - were adopted in the UK by Tony Blair as Labour became New Labour.

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