I have always been intrigued by Tony Blair’s Third Way of
It seemed to me that if he could sustain the idea - and it delivered the
goods - he would have a powerful political marketing tool. He could then
reasonably argue that he had broken out of the stale old Left/Right
conflict into the open country of reasonable men finding practical
answers to our problems, untrammelled by doctrine. This concept has
always had much appeal for those who find party political conflict
tiresome. ’Why can’t they all get together and work for the good of the
country?’ they cry.
Mr Blair certainly shocked the Left by the extent to which he apparently
ditched socialism from the word go. He has undoubtedly made it difficult
for Tory leader William Hague by, presentationally at least,
appropriating many Tory policies and not least their celebrated
Chancellor Gordon described his Budget as prudent on at least 10
occasions in July.
I don’t regard Paddy Ashdown’s compact with Mr Blair on behalf of the
Liberal Democrats as evidence of a third way. Mr Ashdown will do
anything to secure proportional representation and a potentially
permanent seat in coalition government. But the fact is that Mr Blair’s
Third Way showed early promise.
Things began to go wrong when he called an eggheads’ conference in No 10
to tell him what the Third Way was - or might be. It then began to look
a bit of a gimmick. Since then Mr Blair has done three things which have
convinced me that it is just a bag of wind. He first capitulated to the
EU on new, expensive Social Chapter employment imposts. Then he
imprudently planned to spend an extra pounds 57 billion over three years
on health, education and welfare just before he halved his estimates of
economic growth. And now he has signed up with 10 other Left-governed
European countries to a good old fashioned socialist tax and spend
More importantly, we now learn that Mr Blair’s Cabinet are deriding the
whole Third Way idea as meaningless and open to ridicule and his
strategists are urging him to ditch it. A bold bit of political PR seems
to be about to bite the dust. And therein lies a lesson for all of us
PROs. It is one thing to think up super sales slogans and snazzy
soundbites. It is another to lend substance, depth, weight, form and
effect to the products and policies they promote.
As time and events take their toll, Mr Blair’s problem is that the Third
Way is not the only thing going west. Such Blair buzzwords as new,
young, cool and modern are giving way to control freak, Stalinist
(suppression of dissent), cronyism and economy with the truth. Somebody
needs to get a presentational grip in No 10.