Third Way, Better Way

By Tony Blair

Sunday, September 27, 1998; Page C07

The Third Way is the route to renewal and success for modern social democracy. It is not simply a compromise between left and right. It seeks to take the essential values of the center and center-left and apply them to a world of fundamental social and economic change, and to do so free from outdated ideology.

The challenge we face is formidable -- global markets, continued povertyand social exclusion, rising crime, family breakdown, the changing role of women, a revolution in technology and the world of work, popular hostility to politics and demands for deeper democratic reform, and a host of environmental and security issues requiring international action.

People seek leadership. They want to know how to adapt and prosper, how to build stability and security in this changing world.

They embrace the center-left's traditional values of solidarity, social justice, responsibility and opportunity. But they know we must move decisively beyond outdated ways of thinking -- beyond an old left preoccupied by state control, high taxation and producers' interests and a new laissez-faire right championing narrow individualism and a belief that free markets are theanswer to every problem.

The 20th century left has been dominated by two camps: a fundamentalist left, which saw state control as an end in itself, and a more moderate left, which accepted this essential direction but favored compromise. The Third Way is a serious reappraisal. It draws vitality from uniting the two great streams of left-of-center thought -- democratic socialism and liberalism -- whose divorce in this century did so much to weaken progressive politics across the West.

The old left and new right have taken -- and continue to take -- different forms across Europe. There is no single blueprint for the Third Way. But Europe's progressive parties share common values, and all of us are adapting to meet new challenges.

For many years in opposition, the British Labor Party was seen -- however unfairly -- as the party of big government, nationalization, anti-enterprise, soft on crime, unconcerned with family life, gripped by pressure groups and favoring more tax and public spending across the board. We were also regarded as poor managers of public services, under the thumb of trade unions and producers' interests and too little concerned with choice and quality. The right wasable to turn privatization and free markets into universal panaceas.

Afalseoppositionwassetupbetweenrightsand responsibilities,betweencompassionand ambition, betweenthepublica nd privatesectors,betweenan enterpriseeconomyand theattack onpovertyand exclusion.

New Labor has sought to move ahead and apply its values in a different way. In theeconomy, our approach is neither laissez-faire nor one of state interference. The government's role is to promote macroeconomic stability; develop tax and welfare policies that encourage independence, not dependence; to equip people for work by improving education and infrastructure; and to promote enterprise. We are proud to be supported by business leaders as well as trade unions.

Education is a critical priority. Higher education standards are the key to international competitiveness and an inclusive society for the future. Significant new investment is driving radical school reform, backed by targets and strong intervention in the case of failing schools.

In welfare and employment policy, the Third Way means reforming welfare to make it a pathway into work where possible. It promotes fair standards at work while making work pay by reducing the taxes and penalties that discourage work and the creation of jobs.

The Third Way strives for a new balance betweenrightsand duties -- not just in welfare but in a tough approach to youth crime and far greater emphasis onthe duties of parenthood. A new approach to family support is being forged to meet the needs of children and to help families -- particularly the most vulnerable -- balance work and home more effectively.

The Third Way stands for democratic renewal and a restoration of faith in politics. New Labor has devolved power within the United Kingdom: Northern Ireland has an elected assembly; the first elections to a new Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly take place next year; and the election of a new mayor of London is one of many steps to renewing local government.

Governments in the course of this century have been well equipped to regulate money, send out benefit checks, build houses, even fight wars and put men onthe moon. Now they need to learn new skills: to work in partnership with theprivateand voluntary sectors; to share responsibility and answer to a much more demanding public; and to cooperate internationally in new ways.

This is the Third Way. A new alliance between progress and justice.

With courage, we can revere our history without living in it, and build dynamic social democratic societies for the 21st century. The writer is the British prime minister.

© The Washington Post Company