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No Right Turn: Reason To Be Suspicious

Reason To Be Suspicious

Many on the left are suspicious of the third way as providing semantic cover for a shift to the right, and after reading Anthony Giddens' latest article in the New Statesman, I can't blame them one bit. In an article headlined The left must open up more clear water between itself and its opponents, Giddens compares the current situation of social democratic or left parties in Europe with the triumphalism of the Blair / Schroeder joint statement.

Where once social democrats held power in thirteen states of the European Union, they are now reduced to nine. According to Giddens, this is due to too little "revisionism". Social democratic parties have failed to move to the right far enough or fast enough. The German Social Democratic Party is in trouble because its members have rejected the revolutionary neo-liberal "reforms" laid out in Schroeder's joint statement (which is a very familiar recipe to New Zealanders: tax cuts for the rich, flexible labour markets, and a move to a low-wage, low skill, service economy); in Denmark and the Netherlands, the left lost power because they "failed to anticipate and respond to a wave of [anti-immigration] right-wing populism". Giddens' "solution" is for left-wing parties to adopt wholesale neo-liberal economic policies, and on other fronts to

...generate left-of-centre solutions to "rightist" problems - such as those to do with crime or immigration.
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In practice, this means outflanking right-wingers on the right, by being even more vicious and reactionary. And so we see the paradigm third way government, Tony Blair's New Labour, demonising asylum seekers and eroding civil and human rights in an effort to win the bidding war for the redneck vote. If there's "clear water" being opened here, it's on the other side of the right-wing boat.

Then there's Giddens' attitude towards dissent. Internal division must be suppressed in order to achieve electoral victory. "Reforms" must be rammed regardless of objections from party rank and file; delays simply make the "backlash" greater. There's more than a whiff of the Douglas blitzkrieg here, which is surprising from someone who claims that democracy must be democratised.

Looking at this program, there is every reason to be suspicious. Giddens' third way isn't a third way at all - it's a wholesale appropriation of the policies of the extreme right, and a sacrifice of core left-wing values for electoral advantage. While it's necessary for left-wing parties to gain power to actually achieve anything, applying Giddens' recipe means forgoing any chance of achieving anything worthwhile. As with the war on terror, if you have to sacrifice everything that would make winning valuable in order to achieve victory, then you really have to wonder what the point is.

But what's truly tragic is that the total compromise Giddens advocates isn't even necessary. Take Britain, for example: it's argued that 18 years of Thatcherism has created an ideological hegemony and destroyed any support for anything closer to "traditional" social democratic policies. Which sounds reasonable, until you realise that in the most recent British election, turnout dropped by 20% as traditional Labour supporters stayed home rather than vote for Blair. Factor in those who held their noses, and it's clear that traditional social democracy (or at least a far "lefter" compromise) still has a large constituency - but urged on by people like Giddens, Blair has simply abandoned them.


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