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New Labour, citizenship and the discourse of the Third Way
in The Third Way and beyond

This chapter analyses the content and evaluates the significance of the discourse of 'the Third Way', disseminated by the New Labour Government. At the heart of New Labour's Third Way is the claim that economic efficiency and social justice can be symbiotic. The chapter argues that the articulation of a particular concept of citizenship is a crucial element of the framework that New Labour believes is necessary in order to achieve this. During 1995 there was an important development in Tony Blair's articulation of a concept of citizenship. Anthony Giddens's work has been utilised by Blair as support from a prominent member of the academy for positions that Blair had already established, rather than being an influence shaping new approaches. The chapter argues that 'stakeholding' was utilised as a brand name for its agenda until it was dropped because of its policy implications.

In this chapter I analyse the content and evaluate the significance of the discourse of ‘the Third Way’, disseminated by the New Labour Government. I argue that the Third Way is a brand name that may well be transient. However, while the label may be transient, the content of Third Way discourse does contain substance, much of which predated the use of the term ‘Third Way’ by several years. At the heart of New Labour’s Third Way is the claim that economic efficiency and social justice can be symbiotic. I argue that the articulation of a particular concept of citizenship is a crucial element of the framework that New Labour believes is necessary in order to achieve this. This argument is supported by evidence drawn from a discursive analysis of various New Labour texts that utilises a method of critical discourse analysis adapted from the work of Fairclough and of Laclau and Mouffe.1 Furthermore I argue that this particular concept of citizenship is inherently exclusionary in its operationalisation within policy. These exclusionary effects can be seen in New Labour’s operationalisation of their particular discourse of citizenship in the New Deal programme for the unemployed.

The temporary embrace of stakeholding

The utilisation of the concept of the ‘Third Way’ by New Labour is arguably largely a political marketing strategy. Its primary purpose is to differentiate the ideology of New Labour from that of its opponents. These opponents are the Old Left within the Labour Party and the New Right, who comprise the first and second ways, respectively.2 The ‘Third Way’ was not the first big idea to be utilised by New Labour in this manner. During the early months of 1996 the predominant label utilised by New Labour was that of ‘stakeholding’.3 Tony Blair embraced the idea of stakeholding in a speech in Singapore in January 1996.4 It proceeded to feature in New Labour’s public discourse throughout the early part of that year. However by the start of the following year, the stakeholding theme had largely been dropped.

The appeal of stakeholding to New Labour was that it could signal a new political project, but be ambivalent with regard to that project’s policy content. Thus stakeholding could act as a discursive umbrella for New Labour’s particular policy content. The problem with this approach was that Will Hutton had already established in his book The State We’re In5 a series of policies derived from the notion of stakeholding. Hutton also wrote articles for the Guardian newspaper which exposed his thinking to an audience made up largely of Labour voters. Hutton’s policy programme contained a higher level of wealth redistribution and greater regulation of capitalism than New Labour was prepared to embrace. Attempts were made to mark out a different form of stakeholding based on the changing of cultural attitudes rather than by a regulatory approach.6 However, these attempts had little to say with regard to policy and failed to have any significant impact within the arena of political discourse.

The emergence of the Third Way: Giddens and Blair

By the time of the 1997 general election, the public had not really identified New Labour with a big idea. New Labour fought the election using a discourse that stressed its newness and its claims to pragmatism and trustworthiness, which were discursively contrasted with the outdated dogma and sleaze of the Conservatives. While this was a discourse that could be effective for winning an election from a position of opposition against an unpopular government, it was unlikely to be a discourse that would maintain popular support for a government over several elections. It was from this background, of the transition from opposition to government, that the articulation of a ‘Third Way’ emerged in 1998.

There were two publications that marked the emergence of a ‘Third Way’ discourse: The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy, by Anthony Giddens of the London School of Economics, and The Third Way: New Politics for the New Century, by Tony Blair.7 Both publications were given considerable media coverage, with exposure being particularly given to the personal links between the two authors. For example, coverage was given to the flight to New York that the two shared to attend a seminar on the Third Way organised by Hillary Clinton. The cover of Giddens’s book claims that Giddens is ‘allegedly Tony Blair’s favourite intellectual’.8 There is mutual advantage in this claim. Giddens is posited as an intellectual who is close to and influential with the Government, while Blair has the advantage of being able to claim intellectual support from the academy for his own position.

Giddens’s book has the advantage for New Labour of being rather abstract, with few policy prescriptions. There is not the space here to detail Giddens’s account of the Third Way.9 However, there are themes within Giddens’s book which coincide with New Labour’s thinking and which are worth highlighting. A key theme is the rejection of Old Left and New Right positions, hence a Third Way. Another is an account of a society undergoing change through the pressures of globalisation. A third is a call for the renewal of civic society. A fourth is the belief that welfare should deliver opportunities. Giddens also uses the alliterative slogan ‘No rights without responsibilities’,10 which has been utilised in New Labour’s public discourse. Giddens’s approach is underpinned by what he describes as ‘philosophic conservatism’, which, he explains, is a commitment to modernisation in order to pursue a pragmatic programme that can cope in a world which is ‘beyond tradition’ and which requires new responsibilities to meet the demands of new risks.11

However, there are elements of Giddens’s account that are lacking in Blair’s. One is Giddens’s stress on the importance of equality. He argues that ‘[a] democratic society that generates large-scale inequality is likely to produce widespread disaffection and conflict’.12 Giddens argues that promoting equality means more than merely promoting equality of opportunity13 and that equality should be seen as inclusiveness.14 He explains: ‘Inclusion in its broadest sense refers to citizenship, to the civil and political rights and obligations that all members of a society should have not just formally but as a reality of their lives.’15 It is notable that Giddens does not mention the social rights that were once seen as integral to post-war social democracy. In contrast, Blair’s account of the Third Way barely mentions equality. Instead it offers ‘opportunity’, with but a single reference to ‘equal worth’.16 Gordon Brown, who argued that in the context of the 1990s equality meant equality of opportunity and not equality of outcome, made clear the meaning of equality for New Labour.17

Giddens stresses the dangers of social exclusion, a concern shared by New Labour; hence the setting up of the Social Exclusion Unit. However, New Labour only emphasises the exclusion of those at the margins of society. Therefore its social and economic policies for tackling social exclusion are aimed at these marginalised groups. In contrast, Giddens argues that exclusion takes place both at the bottom and the top of society. The top of society is prone to voluntary exclusion, described by Giddens as ‘the revolt of the elites’.18 Giddens argues for both a revival of civic liberalism and sustained levels of welfare spending that benefit most of the population, in order to limit the exclusion of those at the top and at the bottom of society.19

So, to what extent has New Labour been influenced by Anthony Giddens? It is arguable that the answer to this question is ‘very little’. Matthew Taylor of the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) argues that an intellectual can really be said to influence a political organisation only when the whole framework of that intellectual’s approach is adopted by the organisation.20 It is clear from the above analysis that this is not the case with regard to the influence of Giddens on New Labour. Giddens’s work has been utilised by Blair as support from a prominent member of the academy for positions that Blair had already established, rather than being an influence shaping new approaches. Consequently, only those elements of Giddens’s approach that already coincided with Blair’s thinking have been included in Blair’s version of the Third Way.

New Labour’s discourse of citizenship

If, as I am claiming here, the use of the label ‘the Third Way’ is little more than a potentially transient political marketing strategy, how can we best characterise the actual substance that is mobilised by New Labour under the brand name ‘the Third Way’? A valuable approach to answering this question is to apply a method of discourse analysis to New Labour texts. This has the advantage of identifying both New Labour’s discursive strategies and those strategies’ development and consistency. The application here of a method of discourse analysis adapted from that constructed by Norman Fairclough identifies a specific discourse that is both explicitly and tacitly articulated within a wide range of New Labour texts.21 My argument is that this discourse is based on a particular concept of citizenship that was first clearly articulated by Tony Blair in 1993, and which has remained a remarkably consistent, albeit developed, discourse within New Labour texts ever since.22 This discourse was a central element of the substance of New Labour’s temporary embracing of stakeholding and is a central element of the substance of its current embracing of the Third Way. Thus, during the 1990s it was the labels of New Labour’s philosophy that changed rather than the fundamentals of that philosophy.

In 1993 Blair, while shadow home secretary, wrote an article for Renewal, a journal that has always been close to the New Labour modernisers. The article, entitled ‘Why modernisation matters’,23 was in effect a rallying call for the modernising faction of the Labour Party, at a time when the modernisers in the party had temporarily lost momentum.24 In this article, Blair claims that both the Old Left and the New Right have failed, and that the pace of change in the modern world demands a new approach to tackle social fragmentation. Thus the idea of a ‘first’ and ‘second’ way that have failed, necessitating a Third Way, is implicit in this article – five years before the public embracing of the Third Way in 1998.

All the main themes found in Blair’s and Giddens’s accounts of ‘the Third Way’ can be found also, at least in rudimentary form, in this 1993 article. Those themes are: the failure of Left and Right, globalisation, social exclusion, and an idea of citizenship in which responsibilities and community are emphasised. At the centre of the new approach suggested in this article is the articulation of a new conception of citizenship. Blair argues: ‘Rebuilding Britain as a strong community, with a modern notion of citizenship at its heart, is the political objective for the new age. Labour must transform itself into a credible vehicle for achieving it.’25 The terms ‘at its heart’ and ‘political objective for the new age’ emphasise the importance and relevance of ‘a modern notion of citizenship’. The sentence ‘Labour must transform itself into a credible vehicle for achieving it’ indicates a very strong commitment by Blair to creating this effective notion of citizenship and the percieved need to transform the Labour Party in order to achieve that end; hence the need for modernisation. The phrase ‘for the new age’ is of crucial importance as it creates a sense of a changing world that makes new demands that have to be met with new requirements. This sense is enhanced elsewhere in the article by the statement: ‘What is required today is to define a new relationship between citizen and community for the modern world.’26 This discursive sense of a changing world is initiated in the phrase that informs the reader of ‘what is required today’. The phrases utilised here are presuppositions27 in that they presuppose a modern world or new age that has the requirements of a strong community and a modern notion of citizenship. It is also notable that the phrases ‘modern world’ and ‘new age’ are, within this discourse, nominalisations: they are in effect posited as actors that demand requirements from specific societies.28 The agency of the members of a society to be able to formulate their own requirements is absented. The phrases ‘new relationship’ and ‘modern notion’ indicate that this notion of citizenship constitutes a break with previous ones. This modern notion of citizenship is posited as a requirement in order to meet the demands of the modern world.

New Labour utilises a number of phrases such as the ‘modern world’, the ‘new age’, the ‘changing world’, ‘new times’ and the ‘global economy’ to construct a context for the necessity of a new approach with a modern notion of citizenship at its heart.29 This context is presented as a given fact, disguising the neo-liberal presuppositions on which it is predicated; for example, the limitations of the nation state, the inevitability of capitalist deregulation, flexible labour markets and privatisation.30 The ‘modern world’, or ‘global economy’, is presented as a reality and is posited as the central process that necessitates the development of a new notion of citizenship.31 This has two notable effects. Firstly, the responsibility of managing global economic change is partially shifted from being a governmental responsibility to being the obligation of a responsible citizenry.32 Secondly, citizenship is articulated as inextricably linked to economic requirements. Inclusion into citizenship becomes, in practice, the fulfilment of the obligation to participate in both labour and consumer markets, in order to enable Britain to compete as a nation within the global economy.

This notion of citizenship is defined in these terms:

A modern notion of citizenship gives rights but demands obligations, shows respect but wants it back, grants opportunity but insists on responsibilities. So the purpose of economic and social policy should be to extend opportunity, remove the underlying causes of social alienation, but it should also take tough measures to ensure that chances that are given are taken up.33

The first phrase of this passage begins the process of decontesting citizenship as a concept. By positing ‘ a modern notion’ – in the singular – of citizenship, the statement absents other, potentially competing, conceptions of citizenship. It does not define the rights that are to be given and what obligations are being demanded. However, the use of ‘demands’ signals that whatever these obligations are, they are to be taken seriously. It is an example of a discourse of tough authority, which also surfaces in the statement in the forms ‘insists’, ‘takes tough measures’, and ‘to ensure that chances that are given are taken up’. The implication is that previous notions of citizenship have lacked this toughness.

The idea of ‘opportunity’ is included within this ‘modern notion of citizenship’ and is grouped along with rights and respect as the elements given by this new notion. In contrast, obligations, respect and responsibilities are grouped together as the elements demanded by the new notion. The linking of ‘rights’ and ‘opportunities’ allows slippage between these two terms. This is not in itself new. T. H. Marshall’s concept of citizenship implicitly linked rights and opportunities, in that the establishing of social rights was seen as the means of guaranteeing opportunity by alleviating poverty and disadvantage.34 Within Blair’s notion of citizenship, opportunity is not something that is necessarily created via the establishing of social rights. It is open to the idea that opportunities can function in place of social rights. This slippage, of opportunities replacing social rights, can be seen in the New Deal policy under which universal unemployment benefit is replaced by benefit that is conditional on the uptake of one of the opportunities offered. Thus the principle of ensuring that chances that are given are taken up is embedded within the New Deal policy.

During 1995 there was an important development in Blair’s articulation of a concept of citizenship. This development concerns the relationship between the notions of rights and responsibilities. In the 1993 articulation of citizenship the implied relationship between these two elements was one of balance. Duties/obligations were stressed as an element that had previously been neglected, leading to an imbalance in favour of rights. In Blair’s Spectator lecture, in March 1995, this relationship of balance was replaced with one of hierarchy. This is most clearly seen in the statement: ‘The rights we receive should reflect the duties we owe.’35 The key word in this statement is the seemingly innocuous ‘reflect’, as it is this word that indicates the shift from a relationship of balance to a relationship of hierarchy. A reflection is a copy of an original. The existence of the original manifestation is prior to and conditions the existence of the reflection. Therefore in this case, it is the existence of duties that is both prior to and conditions the existence of rights. Duties come above rights in a relationship of hierarchy. Rights no longer have a status in which they are justified by their own inherent value. Instead their justification is determined by the need and capability to perform duties. Rights are given so that duties can be performed. This is not an overestimation of the significance of the word ‘reflect’. Consider this statement from the same speech: ‘Duty is the cornerstone of society. It recognises more than self. It defines the context in which rights are given.’36 It is made explicit that the context in which rights are given is defined by duty, which is implicitly posited as the first priority of citizenship.

This new – hierarchical – notion of citizenship was institutionalised in the new Clause 4 of the Labour Party’s Constitution in April 1995. Close attention is often rightly paid to Labour’s embrace of the ‘dynamic market economy’ within this clause. Less attention is paid to the phrase found in the first article of the clause: ‘where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe’.37 The key word is again ‘reflect’, although the phrase is more appealingly packaged, with the word ‘receive’ in the earlier articulation being replaced by ‘enjoy’. Thus the prioritisation of duties over rights was embedded in the founding statement of New Labour’s values, which the new Clause 4 undoubtedly represents.

It could be argued that the above analysis demonstrates merely that Blair and New Labour passed through a phase in which citizenship was articulated as a key concept. However an analysis of later New Labour texts indicates that, while the influence of a modern notion of citizenship is rarely explicitly referred to, the discourse of citizenship established in this earlier phase is notable in these texts. Consider these examples drawn from a speech delivered by Blair at Southwark Cathedral in 1996, during the ‘stakeholding’ period:

Above all, however, we must create a society based on a notion of mutual rights and responsibilities …We accept our duty as a society to give each person a stake in its future. And in return each person accepts responsibility to respond, to work to improve themselves.38

Although citizenship is not articulated in these statements, a discourse of citizenship is clearly present, as it is in these examples taken from the 1997 Labour Party general election manifesto: ‘New parental responsibility orders will make parents face up to their responsibility for their children’s misbehaviour’;39 and ‘The unemployed have a responsibility to take up the opportunity of training places or work.’40 These statements also indicate the intention of New Labour that this discourse of citizenship be operationalised within specific policies.

The Third Way and New Labour’s discourse of citizenship

This discourse of citizenship is also present in Blair’s account of the Third Way. Again the phrase ‘the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe’ is utilised within the text, invoking the subordination of rights to responsibilities.41 Responsibility is a key theme that enjoys its own subsection and is repeatedly utilised throughout the text. Consider these examples:

For too long the demand for rights from the state was separated from the duties of citizenship and the imperative for mutual responsibility […] Strong communities depend on shared values and a recognition of the rights and duties of citizenship – not just the duty to pay taxes and obey the law, but the obligation to bring up children as competent, responsible citizens.42

Blair’s account of the Third Way contains no fewer than thirty-five instances of the concepts of responsibility, duty and obligation. In contrast there are only ten instances of the concept of rights. There are eight instances in which rights and responsibilities are collocated as concepts (this technique also has alliterative value) of which five refer to rights and responsibilities going together and three stress increased responsibilities as a response to the perceived previous excessive emphasis on rights (for example, consider the first sentence in the above axtract). There are only two instances within the text of the concept of rights standing alone, whereas there are twenty-seven instances of the concepts of responsibility, duty or obligation standing alone. However, this apparent imbalance of repetitive use between rights and responsibilities has not yet taken account of the usage of a concept of opportunity. That concept appears twenty times in this text, of which fifteen instances utilise opportunity where the concept of rights could have been utilised instead, indicating a tendency to replace the concept of rights with that of opportunity.43 Consider this statement which summarises the core values of Blair’s Third Way: ‘Our mission is to promote and reconcile the four values which are essential to a just society which maximise the freedom and potential of all our people – equal worth, opportunity for all, responsibility and community.’44 There are no rights in this mission statement: instead, responsibility is balanced by opportunity.45 Equality is reduced to the classical liberal concept of equal worth and the slippery concept of community is invoked.46 There is also the presupposition that these are indeed the values that are essential for a just society.

It is not being claimed here that the substance of Blair’s Third Way consists only of a particular articulation of citizenship. The big idea at its heart is the belief that economic efficiency and social justice go together and have wrongly been considered as antagonistic in the past.47 This belief is articulated in Blair’s Third Way and is widely articulated across New Labour’s public discourse. My own study of 100 textual examples of New Labour’s public discourse reveals that in 83 per cent of these texts the idea of social justice and economic efficiency going together is at least implicit.48 In 34 per cent the same idea has a high salience in that it is a central theme of the text. The idea that past antagonisms can be transcended is a key feature of Blair’s Third Way. Underlying this idea is a belief that there can be a fully consensual society,49 and this becomes explicit in New Labour’s articulation of the ‘shared values’ that are established in ‘strong communities’. The possibilty of shared values is dependent on the reality of a fully consensual society without underlying antagonisms.50 This is a very idealistic perspective, which implicitly denies other values formed within different perspectives. It is inevitable that the operationalisation of ‘shared values’ will identify certain values as normative and therefore prove exclusionary for some – non-conformist and marginal – individuals and groups.51 The operationalisation of a normative concept of citizenship inevitably results in distinctions between good and bad citizens. The latter are invariably found among the poor and the marginalised: for example, single mothers, young unemployed men, travellers and the homeless. The wealthy who avoid taxes and pay low wages are rarely highlighted for their lack of responsibility.52

New Labour’s belief in a consensual society is expressed in its confidence in the potential of ‘partnership’ – the term is utilised eighteen times in Blair’s Third Way and twenty-three times in the 1997 Labour Party general election manifesto. Partnership is posited as the mechanism by which national renewal can be achieved. As such, it is explicitly presented and also nominalised as a panacea which can overcome previous antagonisms at all levels of society: for example, between public and private sectors, or parents and schools. Such a wide application of the concept of partnership presupposes that there can always be shared objectives derived from shared values.

The same presupposition informs New Labour’s concept of community, which is usually presented in the singular and is invoked as the source of ‘shared values’.53 Community is rarely defined clearly in New Labour texts. Marquand has noted that the term is used interchangeably in New Labour texts with ‘society’, ‘nation’, ‘country’ and ‘people’.54 The articulations of these terms lack analytical rigour, but they do invoke a broad sense of inclusiveness. ‘Community’ is utilised by New Labour as a floating signifier that acts as an overarching concept for developing consensus within the electorate, in that all of the electorate are members of at least one community. The implication is that Britain can function as a fully consensual society that shares the same set of values, which then operate as the basis for social rules and norms.55 This is a highly modernist perspective, one which asserts that the appropriate social rules and norms can be correctly identified and universally applied, as this statement by Blair demonstrates: ‘We understand the scale of change and are willing to organise our society to meet it. We recognise the need for a new moral purpose in politics and have the individual family and social values capable of sustaining it.’56 The claim that accepted social rules might be identified and achieved is an ideological articulation that attempts to deny the inevitability of social and political antagonism. Therefore those who are antagonistic to New Labour’s shared values are posited as irresponsible citizens who need to become better citizens or should be denied elements of citizenship. For example, a key New Labour ‘shared value’ is the work ethic, as seen in this statement by Gordon Brown: ‘The task is to revitalise the work ethic in our society.’57 Consequently there is no fifth option of remaining on benefit under the New Deal policy, a policy that attempts to operationalise New Labour’s concept of citizenship by matching opportunities with the responsibilities of the good citizen. Either the social rights of citizenship have to be earned by the responsible taking up of one of the opportunities offered, or they are denied via the practice of sanctioning benefits.

In short, for New Labour, citizenship is not an automatic right; it is earned by the fulfilling of responsibilities. Therefore, inclusion in citizenship becomes a personal responsibility. This has the discursive effect of absenting structural social and economic barriers to full participation in society. Opportunities are consistently substituted for rights, thus increasing the conditionality of this notion of citizenship. Responsibility and duty are posited as the prime concern of citizenship, with rights and opportunities given in order that citizens are able dutifully to fulfil their responsibilities, as seen in the New Deal programme for the unemployed. The social rules and norms of the responsible, or good, citizen are claimed to be derived from shared values found in strong communities, thus introducing a strong normative content to New Labour’s concept of responsibility.

The functions of citizenship in New Labour’s Third Way

New Labour’s Third Way is predicated on three key presuppositions. These are the presupposition, firstly, of a neo-liberal narrative of a changing world that demands adaptation; secondly, of a consensual society that can agree shared values and work in partnership; and, finally, of the failure of both the Old Left and the New Right, characterised respectively as the first and second ways, hence the required Third Way.58 New Labour’s articulation of its concept of citizenship is a crucial part of the party’s response to the demands, or requirements, of these three presuppositions.

First, this concept of citizenship plays a large part in differentiating the Third Way from both the first and second ways. It could be argued that New Labour’s embracing of the ‘dynamic’ market economy, its support for privatisation and its acceptance of the majority of the Conservative’s trades union legislation already constitute a sufficient break with Old Labour, or the first way, to make unnecessary a new notion of citizenship. However, these breaks, while representing a rupture with Old Labour, represent also continuity with a New Right agenda. The particular value of New Labour’s discourse of citizenship is that it represents a simultaneous break with both Old Labour and the New Right, or second way. Thus New Labour is able to differentiate itself further from Old Labour while avoiding the charge that it is merely embracing a New Right agenda.

It is this discourse of citizenship, with its particular articulation of community, inclusion, equality of opportunity and personal responsibility, that differentiates New Labour from the individualistic and purely market-based ethos of the new right. It is this discourse that offers a vision of social inclusion that can potentially appeal to centre-left academics, old Labour Party personnel and traditional Labour Party voters, alleviating the discomfort that many would feel at New Labour’s embrace of a neo-liberal political economy.59 It also allows an attempt to construct chains of equivalence across a wider range of social groups than the socialist discourse of Old Labour. For example, the absence of any socialist intertextuality in this discourse, along with its stress on personal responsibility, enables it to appeal to voters who have formerly voted Conservative out of fear of socialism. Therefore it is a discourse that can both substantiate New Labour’s newness and have wide electoral appeal.

Second, responsible citizenship is presented as socially inclusive of all and therefore as the basis of a fully consensual society based on partnership. The presupposition that there can be a fully consensual society without antagonism and polarity posits the prospect of a society without sides, where there are only varying degrees of winning and no losing. New Labour advocates the view that such a consensual society can be created by socially responsible citizens taking up the opportunities offered, in order to fulfil obligations derived from shared values. The development of the good citizen is an ongoing long-term project aimed at creating strong communities and, therefore, social cohesion.60 It could be argued that citizenship, for New Labour, is a moral crusade to sustain society, over the long term, against the fragmentation resulting from the amorality of market forces, which are accepted by New Labour as dynamic and beneficial.61

Third, responsible citizenship is linked to economic competence and the ability to compete in the global marketplace. If citizens act responsibly in taking up the opportunities to learn new skills and enhance present skills, then, it is claimed, the overall economic efficiency of the nation will be better equipped to compete in the global marketplace. In their proposal of a European Third Way, Blair and Gerhard Schröder argue: ‘The most important task of modernisation is to invest in human capital: to make the individual and business fit for the knowledge-based economy of the future.’62 With regard to citizenship it is significant that individuals are to be made fit for the supposed economy of the future. Citizens are to be equipped with the appropriate competences in order to meet the economic context that New Labour have discursively constructed via their discourse of globalisation. The second and third of the functions described above (social inclusion and economic competence) are crucial to New Labour’s central aim of facilitating a symbiosis between social justice and economic efficiency. It is implied that it is precisely the operationalisation of a responsible citizenship – one that both observes the shared values of community, equal worth and opportunity and is competetive in labour markets – that can facilitate this symbiosis. In this regard, New Labour’s operationalisation of citizenship, along with that of partnership, underpinned by a commitment to a neo-liberal political economy, represents the mechanisms by which social justice and economic efficiency can be made to reinforce each other.

The foregoing discursive analysis of New Labour’s articulation of a concept of citizenship, and of its functions as a crucial pillar of the Third Way, elucidates the ideological characteristics of New Labour. It is Blair’s claim that the Third Way stands for a modernised social democracy.63 This claim does not seem viable in the light of the above analysis. New Labour has embraced a neo-liberal political economy by accepting the neo-liberal presuppositions of its perspective of globalisation.64 New Labour has adopted a classical liberal concept of equal worth, rather than the socialist or social democratic concepts of equality of outcome or redistributive equality. It has adopted a modern liberal concept of opportunity for all, but even this, within Blair’s Third Way, is separated from the concept of equal worth, and therefore only represents a commitment to providing some opportunity rather than equality of opportunity.

New Labour expresses a commitment to the fulfilling of duties and obligations that is reminiscent of civic republican approaches, although for the majority of citizens there has been no evidence of a civic republican commitment to increased participation in the political process, but only a partial commitment to citizen consultation. However, such an emphasis on personal responsibility without increased political participation is a feature of a number of American versions of capitalistic communitarianism. New Labour has had strong links with Etzioni’s brand of communitarianism.65 Etzioni and New Labour share an emphasis on the responsibilities of the citizen, a condemnation of excessive rights and a belief in a consensual society based on shared values found in strong communities; and both embrace the market economy while largely failing to identify the responsibilities of capitalist enterprise.66 Thus the collectivist element of New Labour’s Third Way that surfaces in the form of community is not a renewal of social democracy. Rather, it is a commitment to a British version of capitalistic communitarianism. Stephen Driver is therefore correct when he argues, as he does in chapter 2 of this book, that New Labour cannot be dismissed as merely Thatcherism Mark II. However, the difference between New Labour and Thatcherism stems not from the former’s modernisation of social democratic principles, but from its adoption of a version of capitalistic communitarianism.67 In short, New Labour combines a neo-liberal political economy with a communitarian social perspective. There is very little here that is recognisable as even a modernised social democracy, and certainly no trace of socialism.

The consumption of New Labour’s discourse of citizenship and its prospects for the future

The distinction that New Labour articulates between the good, or deserving, citizen and the bad, or undeserving, citizen clearly has some resonance with the general public. The findings of the 1999 annual British Social Attitudes survey suggest that New Labour’s emphasis upon the importance of imposing a work ethic with regard to welfare claimants has widespread public support, although the same survey also found that most respondents still believed that adequate welfare should be paid to those who become unemployed.68 This would suggest that a significant part of the general public accept a distinction between those welfare claimants who are deserving because of their willingness to take up opportunities of work and training, and those who are undeserving on account either of their reluctance to work or their engagement in the ‘black economy’. It is the latter group which is identified by New Labour as those who are ‘other’ and who represent a threat to the consensual achievements of the rest of society.

While the public appears broadly to support the principles of New Labour’s operationalisation of citizenship in the New Deal policy, such support may not be so strong among the clients of welfare who are its targets. Geoff Mulgan, formerly a member of the No. 10 Policy Unit, states that independent survey evidence indicates that the majority of clients who have experienced the New Deal programme believe it to be broadly fair in its implementation.69 However, my own research, carried out with the New Deal clients of a training provider contracted to the Employment Service in Swindon, indicates a high degree of dissatisfaction with the New Deal for the unemployed.70 Out of fifty-three clients interviewed, all but one claimed that they were only taking part in the New Deal because they had been threatened with sanctions on their benefit payments. Clearly, within this particular case study, the element of compulsion, via the threat of benefit sanctions is the main method of recruitment to the New Deal programme. The use of compulsion also had the effect of creating resentment towards the New Deal policy among those particular clients. With two exceptions, these clients were not aware of the existence of a new conceptualisation of citizenship.71 They were, however, familiar with many of the elements of New Labour’s discourse of citizenship. In particular, many had become familiar with New Labour’s use of the terms ‘opportunity’ and ‘responsibility’ though their experience of the New Deal programme,. Many of these New Deal clients expressed concern that they had experienced a greater emphasis on responsibility than on opportunity. Some clients complained of churning – that is, the constant recycling of claimants through training programmes and employment schemes. Others complained of being denied the information of which opportunities were actually available to them. Many felt that the New Deal policy was a ‘window-dressing scheme’, which may have political advantages for the New Labour Government but only made their own lives more difficult.

My research also involved interviewing various people employed to deliver the New Deal programme.72 In general, these people had a much more positive view of the New Deal programme than did the clients. Although these individuals displayed little awareness of the utilisation of a particular discourse of citizenship within the New Deal programme, they were both very aware and generally supportive of the usage of the concepts of opportunity and responsibility, and had actually widely utilised these concepts themselves. Several of these individuals had a rather paternalistic attitude towards the delivery of the programme. These respondents considered the use of compulsion necessary in bringing opportunities to people who could not see those opportunities for themselves. References to ‘tough love’ and ‘having to be cruel to be kind’ were made by some as justification of the use of compulsion in the form of benefit sanctions.73 In general, these New Deal providers displayed a relatively high degree of internalisation of elements of New Labour’s discourse of citizenship as operationalised in the programme. This is in considerable contrast to the relatively high degree of resistance to this discourse and operationalisation that was displayed by the clients who were interviewed.

One provider, however, took rather a different perspective from the other providers.74 He did not support the use of compulsion, claiming that it was undermining the attempt to establish a positive ethos among New Deal clients. He also suggested that the New Deal programme was having exclusionary effects, in two respects. First, the reluctance on the part of some clients to integrate with the disciplinary regime of the New Deal programme was resulting in their withdrawal and the consequent sanctioning of their benefits.75 Second, clients were entering the programme with raised expectations concerning their future. Some clients were finding their expectations to be realistic, but for others the experience of ‘churning’ prior to their eventual return to unemployment only frustrated their expectations, leading to considerable disappointment and even resentment. The interviews with the clients revealed that most of them had experienced such frustration, disappointment and resentment.

The future success of New Labour’s hegemonic articulation of citizenship is uncertain. In May 2001 the party won a second general election, with another large majority, albeit on a very low turnout. Therefore its overall popularity among electors is still strong. However, many promises were made concerning the successful delivery of the symbiosis of economic efficiency and social justice during their second term. The successful operationalisation of New Labour’s concept of citizenship is a crucial element of its project to combine economic efficiency and social justice. As such it provides rather shaky foundations for this project. While its discourse of citizenship has so far had a clear appeal to the general electorate, it appears from my own research to have considerably less appeal for some New Deal clients, who are the targets of the attempt to socially construct better citizens from among the ranks of the unemployed. Their resentment, frustration and, in some cases, exclusion will remain as a visible sign of the failure of the attempt to socially shape the good citizen.76

Ultimately, New Labour’s discourse of citizenship faces a fundamental problem. It is a discourse which attempts to suture the social by articulating the particular as the universal.77 This can be clearly seen in the articulation of supposedly shared values that are both found within and form the basis of strong communities. This perspective denies the possibility of social antagonism concerning these shared values. It is always particular values that are articulated as values which are universally shared. Consequently other values are either absented or marginalised. The holders of these other values represent the social antagonism that negates New Labour’s claim to represent universal values. This social antagonism is always already there and as such performs a constant undermining of the credibility of New Labour’s discourse of citizenship. Whether, or when, this process of undermining results in both a public and an elite rejection of the credibility of this discourse of citizenship is a question that only the unfolding of events over time can answer. However, a discourse of citizenship which emphasises a normative conception of responsibility above the holding of universal rights is particularly prone to rejection on the basis of its prescriptive content, and to the inevitable associated social antagonism associated with such a rejection.


This chapter has argued that ‘the Third Way’ is, for New Labour, primarily a convenient and possibly temporary brand name for their agenda. I have argued that ‘stakeholding’ also was utilised as a brand name for its agenda until it was dropped because of its policy implications. A crucial element of this agenda is New Labour’s commitment to operationalising a particular concept of citizenship, one which has been articulated with considerable consistency since 1993. This discourse of citizenship has remained reasonably consistent through the stages of its development, while it is the public labels of New Labour’s philosophy that have changed. From this perspective it can be seen that the Third Ways of Blair and Giddens did not emerge as simultaneous projects. Giddens’s approach has been utilised by Blair only where it is already compatible with the philosophy that the prime minister has consistently developed since 1993. For Blair, it was only the name of the Third Way that was new in 1998, not the substance. It has been argued that this notion of citizenship is crucial in that it aids differentiation of the Third Way from the first and second ways, and is a key mechanism in the task of meeting the claimed challenges both of responding to globalisation and of developing a consensual society derived from shared values, thus combining the twin aims of economic efficiency and social justice.

New Labour’s concept of citizenship is characterised by its prioritising of responsibilities above rights, with the latter largely replaced by opportunities. This concept is predicated on presuppositions that are drawn, in the economic sphere, from neo-liberalism and, in the social sphere, from capitalistic communitarianism, very little being drawn from socialist or social democratic perspectives. Consequently, New Labour’s articulation of a concept of citizenship can be interpreted as an attempt to develop greater social cohesion within contemporary Britain while positively embracing the private sector and the market economy. It is part of an attempt to create a basic level of social justice while avoiding any elements of socialism. However, beyond the rhetoric, this discourse of citizenship indicates both an institutionalising of a normative and moralistic conception of the good citizen which simultaneously defines the identity of the bad citizen, and a shift in the responsibility for ensuring social justice away from both the government and the social sector to individual citizens themselves, but without an equivalent shift in the rights of political participation or economic power for those same citizens.


1 This method of critical discourse analysis uses techniques of textual analysis drawn from the work of Norman Fairclough, but applied within a post-structuralist theoretical framework drawn from the work of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. See Fairclough 1995 and Laclau and Mouffe 1985.
2 Blair 1999.
3 New Labour’s embrace of stakeholding led to a flurry of academic interest; see e.g. Kelly, Kelly and Gamble 1997.
4 Blair 1996: 291.
5 Hutton 1996.
6 See e.g. Darling 1997; Metcalf 1996.
7 Giddens 1998; Blair 1998.
8 Giddens 1998: dust cover.
9 See the previous chapter, by Paul Cammack, for a detailed discursive analysis of Giddens’s version of the Third Way.
10 Giddens 1998: 65.
11 Ibid., p. 68.
12 Ibid., p. 42.
13 Ibid., p. 101.
14 See chapter 8, this book, for Paul Cammack’s critical account of Giddens’s interpretation of ‘equality’.
15 Giddens 1998: 102.
16 Blair 1993: 3.
17 Levitas 1998: 134.
18 Giddens 1998: 103.
19 Ibid., pp. 107–8.
20 Interview with Matthew Taylor, at the IPPR, 12 January 2000.
21 Fairclough 1995.
22 This is a very different argument from that of Finlayson (1999: 274), who claims that New Labour only flirted with a new notion of citizenship.
23 Blair 1993.
24 This was during Smith’s leadership of the party, which was seen by the modernisers as a time of stagnation; (see Gould 1998: 175–82.
25 Blair 1993: 11.
26 Ibid., p. 4, reprinted in Blair 1996: 215.
27 Presuppositions are the taken for granted assumptions of a text, or the ‘unsaid’ of a text; that is, what it taken as a given and is already said elsewhere. Therefore it is the form in which a text is shaped and penetrated by elements of prior textual practice. Presuppositions are evidence of the presence of specific intertextualities. See Fairclough 1995: 4–6.
28 ‘Nominalisations’ are processes that have been turned into noun-like terms (nominals), which can then function as participants in other processes. When a process in nominalised some or all of its participants are obscured. See Fairclough 1995: 110.
29 Fairclough 2000: 23–9: Fairclough considers New Labour’s globalisation thesis to be a major discursive strategy in creating an apparently objective context of necessity. However, whilst Fairclough notes the presence of a discourse of rights and responsibilities, he does not identify a specific cohesive articulation of a concept of citizenship by New Labour.
30 Hay (1999: 30) argues that this set of prescriptions is presented as the only alternative available.
31 For a critical account of this globalisation thesis derived from persuasive if inconclusive empirical evidence, see Hirst 1999.
32 Freeden (1999: 42) offers a similar argument.
33 Blair 1993: 7.
34 Marshall 1950.
35 Blair 1996: 238.
36 Ibid., p. 237.
37 The new Clause 4 of the Labour Party Constitution.
38 Blair 1996: 298.
39 Labour Party 1997: 23.
40 Ibid., p. 19.
41 Blair 1998: 4.
42 Ibid., pp. 4 and 12.
43 Gordon Brown in particular utilises a discourse of opportunity rather then a discourse of rights. For example, in his speech to the East London Partnership, in February 2000, Brown referred to opportunities twenty four times without once referring to rights.
44 Blair 1998: 3.
45 White (1998: 17–30) notes that the concepts of opportunity and responsibility are centre stage in what he terms a recent attempt to articulate a Centre-Left philosophy of government, but he does not connect this to an articulation of citizenship.
46 In chapter 6 of this book Eunice Goes demonstrates that the term ‘community’ has been used in divergent ways by various New Labour personnel.
47 Blair 1998: 1.
48 These 100 texts were articulated by a range of New Labour authors over the period from 1993 to 2000, and were disseminated in media including Labour movement journals, broadsheets, tabloids, television appearances and speeches (drawn from relevant websites).
49 Fairclough (2000: 44–5) draws a similar interpretation and argues that New Labour implicitly claim to be able to reconcile irreconcilables.
50 Hall (1998) argues that New Labour’s Third Way suggests that there are no longer any conflicting interests that cannot be reconciled, and therefore envisages a politics without adversaries. It is arguable that it was this belief that left New Labour so unprepared to deal with the fuel protests of September 2000, and that their belief in the absence of adversaries resulted in them being unable to see the adversaries who were organising against them.
51 It is inevitable due to the impossibility of a fully sutured society. Any discursive construction of a reality of shared values can never have an unmediated relation with the real. Such a construction will always be particular rather than universal and will therefore always be antagonistic to other particular accounts of shared values. See Laclau and Mouffe 1985.
52 Matthew Taylor of the IPPR expressed in interview (12 January 2000) concern that New Labour’s discourse of responsibility appeared to be targeted at those at the bottom of society rather than those at the top.
53 Blair 1998: 12.
54 Interview with David Marquand, Mansfield College, Oxford, 18 January 2000.
55 Blair 1995: 11.
56 Ibid.
57 Brown 1998.
58 The ‘Old Left’ refers to the Keynesian egalitarian social democrats of the post war period. The ‘New Right’ refers to Thatcherite conservatism underpinned by neo-liberalism; see Driver and Martell 2000.
59 Many of the commentators in the Nexus Online Third Way Debate who demonstrate guarded support for New Labour, dwell on these particular concepts in their discussion; notably, Julian LeGrand, David Halpern, Stuart White and John Browning; see Halpern and Mikosz 1998.
60 In this regard, New Labour’s discourse of citizenship can be seen as an attempt to constitute new political subjects.
61 Blair 1998: 7.
62 Blair and Schröder 1999.
63 Blair 1998: 1. Giddens subtitles his own version of the Third Way ‘The renewal of social democracy’. Giddens may have a stronger claim in that he does demonstrate a commitment to equality that is greater than just equality of opportunity.
64 For a detailed account of the neo-liberal character of New Labour’s political economy, see Hay 1999.
65 Etzioni 1993. Both Blair and Gordon Brown were introduced to the ideas of Etzioni by Elaine Kamark, who was a special advisor to President Clinton; see Sopel 1993: 145.
66 For a detailed analysis of the similarities and differences between New Labour’s agenda and various communitarian theorists see chapter 8 of this volume.
67 See chapter 3 of this collection, in which Steven Driver offers what is ultimately a defence of New Labour’s claim to be modernising social democratic principles.
68 National Centre for Social Research 1999; Riddell 1999.
69 Interview with Geoff Mulgan, held at 10 Downing Steet, London, 22 March 2000.
70 These interviews were carried out in groups at a training centre run by Taurus, under contract to the Employment Service, between the Autumn of 2000 and the Summer of 2001. All interviewees were guaranteed anonymity.
71 The two exceptions were particularly articulate clients who were well read. Both were critical of New Labour’s conception of citizenship and both expressed great reluctance regarding working within capitalist labour markets.
72 This involved interviewing nine individuals who were employed by the Employment Service and other organisations associated with the delivery of the New Deal programme. These interviews took place between late 1999 and the summer of 2001 in Bristol, Reading, Swindon and London. Again all interviewees were guaranteed anonymity.
73 These phrases were articulated by Employment Service Job Centre business managers in Reading and Bristol.
74 This individual, interviewed during the summer of 2000, was working for a New Deal provider in the Swindon area.
75 Between January 1998 and June 1999, 40,000 individuals dropped out of the New Deal programme. The destination of many of these individuals is unknown; see Times 1999.
76 See chapter 2 of this book, in which Stephen Driver offers a more positive account of the effects of the implementation of the New Deal policy.
77 The ‘suturing of the social’ is a Lacanian concept that describes the attempt of particular discourses to present themselves as being universally applicable; see Laclau and Mouffe 1985.


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The Third Way and beyond

Criticisms, futures, alternatives


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