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Monday, September 21, 1998 Published at 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK

UK Politics: Talking Politics

Third Way points way forward

Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bill Clinton are meeting on Monday to present a shift away from the traditional political ideologies of the right and the left.

The meeting in New York will present a new political perspective, what has been described in soundbites as the Third Way.

BBC Two's Newsnight's Mark Mardell defines for News Online what exactly is meant by the Third Way.

Tony Blair and those around him have been struggling to find an ideology or at least a coherent theme that describes their philosophy.

Not long before the election it was 'stakeholding', but this turned out to have a fairly large body of academic thought behind it.

[ image: Will Hutton wrote about 'stakeholding']
Will Hutton wrote about 'stakeholding'
It is a concept that Will Hutton had brought to prominence in his The State We're In bestseller.

The trouble with this, from Blair's point of view, is it meant too much - notably a much more interventionist economic policy than New Labour believes in.

So the search was on for something better.

Bill Clinton has 'triangulation' - the idea that policies could be found that were not merely between left and right but somehow above them.

Accessible policies

However, the Third Way is slightly more accessible than this.

Those who believe in the Third Way argue that a new politics must be found that is neither old-style socialism or the free market.

Crucial to the whole idea is the acceptance of globalisation and market forces. There is no aspiration to create a new economic system.

There is a desire for a 'fairer' society. But unlike those on the left in the past, this is never defined in terms of equality - a very tricky concept philosophically, when you get down to it.

With some justification, Bill Rodgers, a founder of the SDP and now Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords, has argued on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that this is merely the Social Democratic, Gaitskellite tradition in the Labour Party.

Rights and responsibilities

He has a point - but New Labour is newer than that.

Tony Giddens, director of school at the London School of Economics, who has done the most work on the subject believes at the heart of the Third Way lies rights and responsibilities.

This is obviously important in the welfare context but it also goes beyond that.

The state would no longer be a paternalist state handing out favours but active citizens taking initiatives themselves. The idea of community is very important to the Third Wayers.

I have argued that there are similarities with early Owenite socialism - socialism pre-Marxism which is voluntary and not relying on a powerful state.

Human goodwill

Critics would argue that the Third Way is many of the humanitarian aspirations of socialism but with none of the economic levers needed to achieve its aims.

It certainly seems to lean heavily on human goodwill.

It is fair to say that Clinton and Blair do have a similar philosophy that rejects the old ideas of the left.

They are still thrashing around, trying to find a simple definition, hence the New York meeting.

In rhetoric and aspiration it is certainly more than watered down conservatism, but is it in practice?

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