September 30, 2005


After New Labour, what's left?: Whatever else the left might have lost, it retains its unsurpassed capacity for self-delusion. (Mick Hume, 9/30/05, Spiked)

What can it mean to be on the left today? Nobody seemed to be asking that question at the annual Labour Party conference, but it screamed out of every staged-managed debate.

Many have commented on the lifeless state of the Labour conference, compared to the heated and controversial affairs of past years. Yet few seem to have understood what has changed. It is not simply about the control now exercised by Tony Blair's party managers and PR people. The rise of these petty bureaucrats has been facilitated by a far more important political process - the death of the left. [...]

The role of chancellor Gordon Brown at the conference, and the reaction to it, perhaps best illustrated the left's demise. Over the years, as its influence and authority has waned, the Labour left has scaled down its aspirations time and again, from the demand to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy to a request to keep the lowest-paid workers above the poverty line. During the New Labour years, the left has increasingly attached its hopes to Brown, as the supposedly 'Real Labour' alternative to Blair, despite the absence of any real evidence to support this claim.

The scale of the left's self-delusion over Brown should have become unavoidably evident to all at this week's conference, when the chancellor gave a defining speech that not only pledged to carry on the New Labour project, but also dipped into Margaret Thatcher's old handbag to offer the dream of a share-owning, property-owning democracy. Brown stands revealed as what he always was, the political equivalent of a bank manager - and a dour Scottish Presbyterian bank manager at that. Some left-wing observers seemed genuinely shocked to be confronted with the Real Brown rather than their fantasy about Real Labour. Yet still they will cling to the dream that he didn't really mean all that, and things will be different once 'our Gordon' takes over. Whatever else the left might have lost over the years, it retains its unsurpassed capacity for self-delusion.

Nobody with eyes to see could now seriously contend that the tension between Blair and Brown is any sort of left v right conflict over political principles. This is more like the feuding, feudal politics of an ancient old royal court, where personal cliques and factions manoeuvre for power and squabble over the succession to the throne. The left's keenness to hitch its three-wheeled wagon to one of these courtly cliques only confirms its own loss of direction and independence.

Nor, we might note in passing, does the left that formally exists outside the Labour Party appear to offer much better prospects for progressive politics.

It's notable that you could write exactly the same piece about the Right in America--indeed, many economic conservatives, libertarians, and paleocons are writing them--even though Labour is in power in Britain and Republicans in America and though both have opponents who are dead in the electoral water. The simple fact is that when Tony Blair, George W. Bush, and John Howard adopted Third Way politics they left behind some considerable portion of the ideology that had defined their own parties for seventy years and more and filched some considerable portion of their opponents' ideology. Each bestrides his nation's politics and has carried his party along with him, but only grudgingly. The rank and file still face a period of adjustment to the new realities and it is not unlikely that the party structures in all three nations will undergo some extensive realignment over the next few years. Thus, those who are remain wedded to notions of the First Way and the Second Way will find themselves aliens in the parties they once controlled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 30, 2005 6:45 PM

"Thus, those who are remain wedded to notions of the First Way and the Second Way will find themselves aliens in the parties they once controlled."

In other words, to paraphrase the words of the original Third Way Man, don't hold your breath waiting for The Era of Big Government to actually end.

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at September 30, 2005 7:27 PM

Well, it was Bill Clinton who said that, so of course it was a lie.

Posted by: joe shropshire at September 30, 2005 7:44 PM


The Depression decided that question seventy years ago.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2005 7:47 PM

It'll end eventually. Welfare states, they go bankrupt. Third Way welfare states may bleed out a little slower but bleed out they will. We'll all be farting dust by then, of course, but this Rube Goldberg leviathan isn't going to last forever.

Posted by: joe shropshire at September 30, 2005 8:07 PM

Or, to bring this down to practical politics, the Republicans will go as far left as the Democrats will allow.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 30, 2005 8:11 PM

Stay as far Right as the voters allow.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2005 8:16 PM


On spending issues, sadly, I think that's pretty close to accurate.

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at September 30, 2005 8:17 PM


Welfare States will--Third Way won't. That's the genius.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2005 8:17 PM

oj: Third Way states are welfare states. That's the real genius, people who are smart enough to know better buy in.

Posted by: joe shropshire at September 30, 2005 9:42 PM

Welfare states don't NECESSARILY go bankrupt - except in the sense that all things must end.

The trick is that, like businesses accumulating debt, the top line must grow without major interruption, which is where Olde Europe and the USSR tripped up.

To the extent that America has "welfare state programmes" - such as agricultural subsidies, state-run pension plans, state-run medical plans, and actual grants of cash, food vouchers, and housing subsidies - we can easily cope with the relatively minor economic hiccup of the Boomer retirement.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 30, 2005 9:44 PM


Yes, the Crash and Depression ended the First Way and determined that we'd have a welfare safety net. The 70s and the failure of Communism/Socialism killed the Second Way and brought capitalism back into the picture. The Third Way accepts and exploits both. But there are die-hards for the First and Second.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2005 9:49 PM

I think it shows what an important part of the system the political partys are. All this hate and
rage is being directed at the partys, not the goverment. Switching partys is a lot easier that changing the goverment, and that stops a lot of civil unrest in it's tracks. As for those who argue for third parties, if you can't handle the Republicans or the Democrats, how the heck do you plan to convince me you can handle the Country?

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at September 30, 2005 10:55 PM

The state has a role in generating demand for labor by circulating wealth. The trick is to do this in a manner that does not enervate society by paying people to do nothing. What we are doing is mitigating the inhuman and anti-human effect of technology which otherwise would make most of us superflous.

The danger with this approach is that cynical politicians (is there another kind?) will attempt to manipulate the money we are circulating for their own advantage. This cannot be eliminated, it can only be controlled, as we control it now, by a balanced, adversarial system wherein we check one another's vices.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 30, 2005 11:28 PM

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority only votes for candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by dictatorship.

- Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler, 1747-1813

Posted by: Gideon at October 1, 2005 1:18 AM

A wise man. In other words, the Third Way is the Second Way. The First Way just bends over and thinks of France.

Posted by: joe shropshire at October 1, 2005 4:06 AM

No, the Third Way uses the First for the Second. It's the extent to which fanatics of both the First and the Second feel they've lost completely that shows the revolutionary nature of the Third.

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2005 7:51 AM


Which is why forcing people to fund their own safety net is so revolutionary and potentially so worthwhile.

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2005 8:14 AM
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