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Look and learn from across the Atlantic – the Third Way is over

trump-clintonLook and learn, not from across the Irish Sea as George Osborne once famously enjoined, but from over the Atlantic. Let even atheists among us pray that Hillary Clinton will secure a narrow victory over Donald Trump in the US presidential race this week. But that proposition looks far from certain; she may yet, God forbid, lose.

Either way, ideological factors underlying her dire performance need to be registered and processed by the left this side of the pond. The recoil against the dominant politics of the centre-left over last twenty years stands revealed for all to see. In short, the Third Way is over.

Being the half of ‘Billary’ that thinks with its brain, Ms Clinton has fair claim to be one of the co-architects of the brand of the ideology that hegemonised both European social democratic parties and their bastard American half-cousin in the 1990s.

The New Democrats were the number one formative influence on New Labour.  Blairism was, to no little extent, Clintonism with British characteristics. In Cool Britannia, we loved the governor, and we all did what we could do. From welfare reform to tax credits, from deregulation to free trade, Bubba was always the go-to guy.

One of the most striking features of these years was New Labour’s calculated decision to emulate the Clintons’ love-in with what Trumpist demagogy excoriates as ‘the elite’.

All of a sudden, speedo-clad cabinet ministers were to be found sipping pina coladas on the sundecks of Russian oligarch superyachts, reassuring their hosts that they were intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich. Six-figure donations were none too subtly solicited, with peerages for those willing to sign the cheques far too statistically frequent to be down to chance.

And there were deals to be done, money to be made. In return for ‘light touch regulation’ tantamount to no regulation at all, investment bankers were invited to extend their remit to running what had previously been the public sector.

The heartland vote, as we rebranded the working class, was among the beneficiaries, or so the Blairite sales pitch ran. 125% mortgages were dished out to anybody that asked, while the private finance initiative rebuilt schools and hospitals, even if expensively so.

And, as the Labour right never stops telling us, the electorate loved it, and rewarded Labour with three successive election triumphs. If the party is to win again in 2017, 2020, or whenever the next race comes, it needs to ditch all that Corbynista nonsense and return to the tactics that secured success two decades ago.

The biggest problem with this argument is that the world has changed. However well the model worked in its time, this is no longer its time. Ms Clinton’s travails surely highlight that. Even if she does make it to the White House, touch wood, the lack of electoral enthusiasm behind her is readily apparent, and not least attributable to her open affinities with Wall Street.

What may yet fell Clinton is what the pundits call populism, a term stretched across a range of phenomena so diffuse as to render it meaningless. But however defined, backlash is already a reality that can be observed across the globe in the wake of the global financial crisis.

In Britain, discontent has been mounting for more than three decades, rooted in the deindustrialisation that destroyed many communities long before globalisation got round to finishing the job.

Cash for questions, cash for honours and the MPs expenses scandal have generated widespread disengagement from all major parties, culminating in the sort of widespread alienation as much at work in the Brexit vote as hostility towards the EU and immigration. Earth calling Planet Westminster, can you hear us?

Erstwhile Labour leader Ed Miliband was clever enough to see some of this coming, and clumsily tried to frame his appeal accordingly. The problem was, he lacked the guts – not to mention the street smarts – to articulate this correct understanding with any clarity.

The key themes were present, at least in embryo. Predator companies were duly bashed, even as the inherent virtues of the hardworking families that played by the rules were endlessly extolled.

But his efforts were always beset by very British circumlocution, the punchline always omitted. It was never specified exactly who was shafting the squeezed middle, beyond perhaps an errant energy major or two.

Keepers of the Blairite flame derided Miliband as some sort of unreconstructed leftist who had fatefully departed from the one true path. Those same people are naturally apoplectic about his replacement by Jeremy Corbyn.

Interestingly, many of those who counsel a return to centrist managerialism are fully paid-up West Wing box-set owning US politics junkies, who will have already gotten the beers in for a television overnighter on Tuesday. Yet few seem to have clocked that Clinton is walking it like they talk it, with potentially cataclysmic results.

Nor have they factored in the evidence from Europe. However low Corbynite Labour has sunk in the polls, its support still surpasses that of all major sister parties that are still triangulating like its 1999, including those in France, Spain and Germany.

It even seems to have escaped their consciousness that Labour has been reduced to a third party status north of the border, largely as a result of the inept mishandling of the Indyref that ceded Scotland to a populist-tinged nationalist party.

That we need to win over people who voted for other parties in 2010 and 2015 goes without saying, but the question is how best to do this in the era of inchoate rage against the machine. Splitting the difference with the Tories, thus reinforcing the prejudice that ‘politicians are all the same’, is precisely the wrong way to go.

British society currently evinces a mood for change that either we tap into, or run the risk of it being exploited by a resurgent ugly right. In this new political period, the task is to develop what might be called ‘a Labourism of the left behind’.

In somewhat twisted manner, the more brutish section of the Labour right are already on the case. Some of them have even turned to immigrant bashing by way arguments that flirt with Powellism stripped of pretentious classical allusion. Even if that tactic wasn’t counterproductive, it should be unacceptable from a democratic socialist perspective.

The next manifesto needs to be class-based, but not as that proposition is frequently caricatured, by way of a narrow retro appeal to an industrial proletariat that is there only in vastly diminished numbers. It needs to bring together the 99%, including a goodly chunk of the middle class, around a politics of hope.

Success can only come from finding solutions to stagnating wages, the housing crisis, the shortage of school places. We will also need to demand the highest standards of personal probity from Labour politicians, which hasn’t always been a feature of the last 20 years.

In short, it’s time to kick elite ass, or cede the ground to noxious forces ready to ramp up the rhetoric while continuing to deliver policies that only benefit an increasingly discredited ruling class. If any Labour leadership is going to deliver that, it will be the current one.

20 Comments

  1. Rob Green says:

    US hegemony is over. Globalization is over. Capitalism is over. Hollowed out, unravelling and dead in that order. The Third Way was paid for by Reagan and Thatcher’s financial de-regulation and Gordon Brown and the bankers’ gigantic Ponzi Scam. That was the last hurrah of a dying system. In 2008 it actually died as the current political economic arrangements became an absolute fetter on any further capitalist `development’. Imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism and globalization the highest stage of imperialism. There are no possible political economic arrangements that can replace the current ones and give capitalism a new lease of life. The only thing left to the elites now is pure violence. They are dragging us towards a New Dark Ages from which our species is unlikely to escape with its life. We need to prise the dead fingers of the corpse from around our necks and leap out of the coffin before they back fill the grave with concrete. It is socialism or barbarism. Third way? That lie is dead and that is the meaning of the proto-fascist Trump.

    1. Imran Khan says:

      Bit OTT Rob!

      1. Rob Green says:

        Is Trump OTT? Putin? Erdogan? What about Assad and ISIS and their insane butchery of the revolution in Syria. If you want to see the future of the planet in microcosm should the revolution fail look at Syria. Permanent slaughter. And of course the imperialist `democracies’ and the degenerate Western left have appeased Assad and Putin which is why tyranny is spreading through Turkey and into Europe.

      2. Rob Bab says:

        @Imran Khan
        “Bit OTT Rob!”
        Not really, I think you wrote that with an agreeing smile Imran. You know the coffin RG describes is already heaped bloody, with millions of innocents and that ghastly fate quite possibly awaits us in the not too distant future. Thatcher, Cameron, Blair and Brown et al have all genuflected at the altar of Abomination, even Jimmy Savile would be proud to call them his fiends.

  2. John Penney says:

    Ok, David, I agree that:

    “The next manifesto needs to be class-based, but not as that proposition is frequently caricatured, by way of a narrow retro appeal to an industrial proletariat that is there only in vastly diminished numbers. It needs to bring together the 99%, including a goodly chunk of the middle class, around a politics of hope.

    Success can only come from finding solutions to stagnating wages, the housing crisis, the shortage of school places. We will also need to demand the highest standards of personal probity from Labour politicians, which hasn’t always been a feature of the last 20 years.”

    But what does it mean to be “Class Based” ? Or indeed to offer “hope” ? As stated this can simply be a version of the old “clientellism” of PASOK or of the Chavista current of Latin American top down “leftish” politics, whereby a passive working class voter base is offered more “Welfare goodies” from a Labour Government than the Tories offer with their pro 1% Austerity agenda.

    Even that would be better than today – but is merely bourgeois politics with a Leftish gloss. What is needed is a Labour Party campaigning for a radical Left transformative government guided by a comprehensive Left Economic Plan to move the UK back onto the road towards socialist transformation eg, Significant nationalisation of at least some of the “Commanding Heights” , re-empowering the trades unions, getting to grips with the superrich tax dodgers, rebuilding our Welfare State, etc, etc,

    Without the radical Left re-embracing the fundamental socialist concept of state-led comprehensive democratic Left-oriented Planning , the entire “Corbyn surge” project will just wither away as its liberal platitudes and disconnected “Nice policies bundle” are blown away by the harsh realities of a neoliberal capitalism in deep crisis – and a new rising tide populist Far Right seeking return to a nationalist “statism” which promises to “solve” the disaster of globalisation via internal scapegoatism , strong non-democratic state forms, and wars.

  3. David Pavett says:

    The “third way” we are told is over. But what does that mean? What is a “third way”?

    To the best of my knowledge the “third way” has always been presented as an alternative to rampant uncontrolled capitalism and “statist socialism” in which elites determine what is good for the people.

    In reality this has amounted to a belief that (1) capitalism is the only economic system that can deliver a thriving economy, (2) the material prosperity generated can, to some extent, be redistributed through taxation and government programmes to alleviate or even remove the worst aspects of uncontrolled markets.

    They great days of such a third way were the long-boom decades following WWII. That was the classic era of social democracy. That third way ran out of steam by the 70s. The conditions of that post-war period are long gone and in that sense David Osland may well be right that the third way is dead. On the other hand the current left leadership of the Labour Party is offering little else. So what are we to do?

    David O thinks that “British society currently evinces a mood for change that either we tap into, or run the risk of it being exploited by a resurgent ugly right. In this new political period, the task is to develop what might be called ‘a Labourism of the left behind’”.

    What can this mean? Who are the left behind? Why should they be thought to be the basis for a turn to fundamental social change? What about the new forces shown by the Corbyn surge? It did not come from a Labourism of the ‘left behind’.

    It is one thing to pronounce the death of the third way and quite another to have an analysis of our social and economic problems which is the basis for working towards a different form of society. And if we don’t do that then we will inevitably be tinkering with rehashes of the third way.

    But let’s face it: for the moment there is not even a hint of such analyses in Labour Politics, everything is at the surface level. There is not even a hint of a programme which would be a clear step, even if a small one, to an alternative form of society. How could there be if no one is articulating what such a society would be like even in broad outline? There is no hint of the political culture of debate, education, information and research that would be necessary to explain why fundamental social change is needed and to suggest initial steps that could be taken in that direction. The idea that a “Labourism of the ‘left behind’” could do this work seems to me to be fantasy politics.

    So, rather than ground pronouncements of the demise of the third way it would be better if we recognised that most current left rhetoric is like the Emperor’s new clothes. As people on the left pluck up the courage to say “The leader’s headline policies have no substance” the rhetorical castles come tumbling down.
    I would like to believe that even at this stage the left could redeem itself with serious policy research and developments. However, the signs are not encouraging.

    1. John Penney says:

      Good post, David. All so tragically true.

      It is also a tad ironic that the concept of “The Third Way” historically does not belong at all to the social democratic Right of the ilk of Blair and all the other current European “Centre Left” parties. “The Third Way” as a slogan and coherent ideology actually really belongs to the “neither Big Capitalism nor Communism” ideology of “Strasserite” fascism . Today it is the “airbrushed” nominally “ex-fascist” populist Far Right European parties like the currently hugely successful French National Front who are projecting a political “offer” of nationalist, xenophobic, statist, Anti Big Globalist Capitalism, economic and cultural “regeneration”, whose claimed “Third way” is going to be the big challenge to us on the radical Left.

      This is particularly , as you correctly say, David, given the apparent unwillingness of the Corbyn circle to re-embrace the need for comprehensive radical Left Economic transformative planning as a core component of our “political offer” in this era of profound global crisis, and ever greater impoverishment of our core working class voter base (to be differentiated , as you say, from the extraordinarily middle class activist support base of “Corbynism” ).

      The Labour Right actually have NOTHING to offer to replace their own previous “Third Way” neoliberal mantras – other than some pathetically vacuous petty English nationalism, flag-waving and empty “communitarian” verbiage. If anyone thinks this a tad harsh, I challenge you to wade through two articles by Labour Rightists in recent New Statesman articles, eg, Maurice Glasman’s 3rd November nonsense , entitled “Things Don’t Only Get Better ….” , and Jonathan Rutherford’s equally policy barren, 31st October effort , “Labour has lost it’s Identity”.

      It is the siren appeal of Far Right , “anti globalist capitalism”, radical populism, that we on the Left have to fear in the longer term, not the utterly ideologically busted flushes of the Social Democratic neoliberal Right.

      1. Danny Nicol says:

        Yes it’s leading Corbynistas, alas, who are presently rehashing the Third Way. Witness Paul Mason’s call for a “humane pro-business capitalism” (!!!)

        https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/07/bond-traders-trots-mumsnet-left-centre-farages-mob

        1. C MacMackin says:

          Well, Paul Mason’s politics were always a bit odd. He emphasises the potential for a “post-capitalism” to evolve due to automation and online participatory networks. He seems to think this can happen somewhat spontaneously, so long as there is at least some degree of a social safety net. (I’m probably oversimplifying all of this somewhat.) I don’t buy it myself, but I’m not terribly surprised that he takes such a position.

          1. John Walsh says:

            Yes, and let’s not forget that, for the publication of his Post Capitalism book, Mason’s primary example of the new post-capitalist ‘sharing economy’ was … Uber! For example – Airbnb and Uber’s sharing economy is one route to dotcommunism

  4. Bazza says:

    In the US I have argued the poor white working class should get together with Black Lives Matters and Bernie Sanders supporters (and unions) to form a US Labor.
    But whilst Repulsive Trump cons US working people and Clinton is a Hawk and for Big Business if I was there now I would vote Democrat to Stop Trump!
    Funny he says he is proud as a business man not to have paid taxes in 20 years but is he not a good citizen?
    Surely the rich should pay their fair share to be spent on health, education, adult social care, to address poverty etc. but that would mean Vile Trump would have to believe in a sense of Community and not just himself – a Billionaire Adventurer and a Fake Champion of working people!
    Lessons to learn indeed and JC made a good point that this seems to be happening all over but in this country (apart from Scotland) it has happened inside an established Labour Party.
    Yes we should argue simply and honestly for Left Wing Democratic Socialist ideas here and abroad.

  5. Imran Khan says:

    All of this was predicted fifteen years ago by Gavin Essler in ” The United States of Anger” and is still well worth a read.

  6. Peter Rowlands says:

    Good posts from David and John, but I should point out that what is generally regarded as the ‘Third Way’ was an attempt by the academic Giddens to theorise the collapse of communism/ end of history/triumph of capitalism as best exemplified by the Clinton and Blair governments as opposed to those seeking to cling on to outmoded social democracy.This was always fairly superficial stuff, but Osland is eight years too late – the ‘Third Way’ died in 2008.
    Whether the new right populist, or, as I think John correctly puts it, ‘Strasserite’ Third Way fares any better is partly down to the extent to which the left can articulate answers to the problems facing us, which so far in the UK there is not much sign of.

    1. Rob Green says:

      Turns out US-hegemony and the capitalist globalization it nurtured needed the Soviet Union in order itself to continue to exist. That was the glue that kept the whole thing together but by the late 70s capitalism was stagnant. It was forced to up the pressure on the SU which duly surrendered at the prospect of Reagan’s threat to launch a first strike against the `evil empire’. Since then the US has been trying to establish itself once and for all as the sole and only global super power but by 2008 it was exposed by Iraq as militarily inept and on Wall St as irreversibly financially bankrupted. The US was a hollowed out husk. Globalization was supposed to see it dominate world markets forever via its superior industry, manufacturing, finance and military might but all those patriotic corporations decided to fuck off to China in search of cheap labour. That is the meaning of Trump. Dead capitalism and collapsing globalization. Trump himself will complete the economic work of 2008 at the political level. He will collapse the institutions of global capitalism such as NATO and concentrate his presidency on smashing organised labour, minority community resistance and democracy itself at home. In the meantime absent the US the mice will play. Other world power will try to fill the vacuum. Eventually however America will want to come back out to play and Trump will turn general conflagration into World War Three. There is no possible political-economic arrangement to replace US-sponsored globalization that could give capitalism a new lease of life so it is as it was said it would eventually have to be a straight choice between socialism or barbarism. Socialism or death.

  7. John Walsh says:

    Great news that Trump has won – why so?

    Because anything and everything that rocks the neoliberal boat is to be welcomed. We are in an almighty fix in our neoliberal culture, politics and economy – the left’s pathetic response to mass membership is just one symptom of this.

    We deserve Trump and all the bad he will bring but the silver lining is that he also represents one aspect of the gradual chipping away of the normality of our neoliberal iron cage.

    Does socialist internationalism extend to the working class in the US? If yes, then we have to listen to the millions of US comrades who have been under the cosh of neoliberalism since the 1980s and understand why Clinton is more unacceptable than Trump.

    It’s great news because it’s the will of US blue collar workers, it’s a victory for our comrades.

  8. John Penney says:

    Whilst it’s always amusing to see the smug Guardianista uncritical pro Clinton dynasty liberals go into total nervous breakdown at the victory of the unpredictable Right populist, Trump – I think to welcome Trump’s victory “from the Left” is very foolish.

    Don’t forget that the “grand Delusion” of many Communists in 1933 Germany was to welcome the Hitler electoral stitch-up victory as part of a perceived “inevitable collapse of bourgeois capitalism” so that it would be a case of “after Hitler – us”. Similarly some mavericks on the Far Left have even welcomed the recent huge territorial victories of Daesh in Syria/Iraq as somehow “historically progressive” because “it hastened the breakup of the post 1918 colonial division of the post Ottoman Middle East ”

    No, Trump is a dangerous , hugely corrupt, Right populist demagogue , who, regardless of his (white sectarian) “pro blue collar ” rhetoric will immediately move to scrap even the pathetic working class gains of “Obamacare”, support the most vicious anti trades union legislation, defend the tax privileges of the superrich, and is likely to indulge in a new massive arms race to feed the military industrial Complex. And as for US foreign policy – be VERY AFRAID ! A disaster in the South China Sea flashpoint in particular looms if diplomacy fails.

    No sensible socialist should welcome his victory.

    1. Bazza says:

      Yes John and was reading he will be a lot friendlier to Russia cutting deals over Syria which will give the tyrant Assad and his clique (who own a third of the Syrian econonomy) their country back thus crushing any potential flowering of democracy there.
      Yes I think this US Oligarch will get on well with the Russian Oiligarchs after all they are all capitalist legal thieves together!

  9. C MacMackin says:

    I’m afraid John Penney is right about this. Another reactionary policy Trump has pledged is to undo whatever meager progress has been made on climate change treaties and to increase fossil fuel use. Furthermore, the Democrats will now effectively be ‘the resistance’, allowing them to portray themselves as progressive and get uncritical support from most left-leaning voters. I don’t think it was a coincidence that someone like Bernie Sanders was able to arise after eight years of Obama rather than after the eight years of Bush.

  10. Mike Hogan says:

    Socialists should neither celebrate Trump’s anti-establishment victory nor mourn the passing of the Clinton dream. We should stop defining ourselves as to where we would stand in the battle between two wings of the capitalist class. The leadership of the Democrats did not make a mistake in rejecting Bernie Sanders, they deliberately blocked him, the victory of Trump was their second preference. This is reflected by Progress here who do not want a Corbyn led Labour Party precisely because it would be successful.

    The mistake was made by Sanders who should have stood against the twin representatives of the rich. Wiseacres warned that such a stand would allow Trump in, but now he has been allowed in because many workers rejected the main candidate of their oppressors. If Sanders would have stood as the candidate of Labour we may still have been facing a prospect of a Trump presidency but a giant stride forward would have been made in the fight for a party that truly represents the American working class. A party that could have united rust belt Trump supporters and African Americans if it adopts a radical socialist programme to cut across the racism.

    The lesson for us is that you do not win the disaffected such as working class UKIP voters with centre ground policies barely distinguishable from the Tory’s. You can only win with socialist policies that get to the root of their problems.

  11. Bazza says:

    Yes I woke up to bloody snow and bloody Trump!
    The Billionaire Adventurer is pretending to be a champion for the working class but once again the Right have given (whilst it being a con) a voice to the Left Behind whilst Bernie Sanders efforts from a Left were crushed by the Democratic Party Establishment; would Bernie have won?
    As I say I believe poor whites and blacks and all diverse working people and communities in the US should get together with Bernie Sanders’ supporters to form a US Labour?
    Trump is a Pro-capitalist who says he will take on special interests be he is part of the problem and not the solution.
    Is he going to do try to bring back national capitalism’s (which some argue caused WW1) when international capital (mainly US) invests in less developed countries in search of cheap labour and higher profits.
    And it is interesting that 98% of the US economy is already US owned and just as an example of how globall capital is about 60% of the Chinese economy is foreign owned but we must note that only 20% of the less developed world is industrialised.
    Real solutions can only come from the Left such as state-led public investment, taxing the rich and ending tax havens plus more democratic public ownership (by country) and a global living wage.
    But now is the time to articulate our ideas to try to unite diverse working people here and in every country.
    Keep Hope Alive!

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