During the election campaign few journalists or political commentators picked-up on Helen Clark's comments about the
“Third Way”. So what is the “Third Way” which America's Clinton, Britain’s Blair and Germany's Schroeder have been
following. John Howard reports.
Starting with Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992, Third Way thinking began reshaping progressive politics
throughout the world. Inspired by the example of Clinton and the New Democrats, Tony Blair in Britain led a revitalised
New Labour party back to power in 1997. The victory of Germany's Gerhard Schroeder and the Social Democrats a year
later, confirmed the revival of centre-left politics.
From Latin America to Australia and New Zealand, Third Way ideas began taking hold.
In his State of the Union address in January 1998, Clinton said: " We have moved past the sterile debate between those
who say government is the enemy and those who say government is the answer. My fellow Americans, we have found the third
Then, Tony Blair said: " The Third Way stands for a modernised social democracy, passionate in its commitment to social
justice and goals of the centre-left, but flexible, innovative and forward-looking in the means to achieve them."
Germany's Schroeder calls it the New Middle. He said: " The New Middle appeals to those who want to grasp the initiative
and experience the growing flexibility of the labour market. The New Middle appeals to those who want to fulfil the
dream of self-employment, who are willing to take risks."
On 21 September 1998 Tony Blair said in a speech in the United Sates: " 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 contra and centre-left and apply them to a world of fundamental social and economic change; and
to do so free from outdated ideology. The Third Way makes a departure within the centre-left. The Third Way is a serious
He added, " New Labour in government is putting the Third Way into practice. In the economy our approach is neither
laissez-faire nor one of state interference. The government's role is to promote macro-economic stability: to develop
tax and welfare policies that encourage independence, not dependence; to equip people by improving education and
infrastructure; and to promote enterprise, particularly the knowledge-based industries of the future. Education is the
"In welfare and employment policy the Third Way means reforming social security to make it a pathway into work. It
promotes fair standards at work while making work pay."
Mr Blair went on: " The Third Way strives for a new balance between rights and duties - not just welfare, but in a
tougher new approach to youth crime and far greater emphasis on the duties of parenthood. A new approach to family
support is being forced to meet the needs of children and to help families particularly the most vulnerable - balance
work and home more effectively."
Essentially, the Third Way rests on three cornerstones:
- the idea that government should promote equal opportunity for all while granting special privilege for none;
- an ethic of mutual responsibility that equally rejects the politics of entitlement and the politics of social
- and, a new approach, to governing that empowers citizens to act for themselves.
The Third Way approach to economic opportunity and security stresses technological innovation, competitive enterprise
and education rather than top down redistribution of laissez-faire. On questions of values, it embraces "tolerant
traditionalism," honouring traditional moral and family values while resizing attempts to impose them on others. It
favours an enabling rather than a bureaucratic government, expanding choices for citizens, using market means to achieve
public ends and encouraging civic and community institutions to play a larger role in public life.
The Third Way demands political audacity and imagination not seen in New Zealand for some time. It will be a spark for
exchange of new ideas. It will move us beyond the sterile left-right debate and, like progressivism a century ago, the
new Third Way politics will be the work of many hands.
We should look forward to some exciting times ahead and, if Labour can pull it off, this new chapter in our book of
democratic self-government will be well worth reading in a hundred years.