This part introduces the key themes and some of the main interpretations of what the Third Way is and the routes down which it may be going. Third way approaches to economic and social policy have become part of the political agenda of many countries, whoever is in power. Despite many opportunities to damage the Third Way New Labour Government, the opposition Conservative Party failed to make anything but the most marginal inroads into Labour's huge parliamentary majority. The Third Way offers an antidote to the individualist values of the New Right.
In the late 1990s Third Way governments were in power across Europe - and beyond, in the USA and Brazil, for instance. The Third Way experiment was one that attracted attention worldwide. The changes made by Left parties in Scandinavia, Holland, France or Italy since the late 1980s are as much part of Third Way politics as those developed in Anglo-Saxon countries. Since the early 1990s welfare reform has been at the heart of the Centre-Left's search for a new political middle way between post-war social democracy and Thatcherite Conservatism. For Tony Blair, welfare reform was key to establishing his New Labour credentials - just as it was for Bill Clinton and the New Democrats in the USA. Equality has been 'the polestar of the Left', and the redefinition of this concept by Giddens and New Labour marks a significant departure from post-war social democratic goals. The most useful way of approaching the problem of the Blair Government's 'Third Way' is to apply the term to its 'operational code': the precepts, assumptions and ideas that actually inform policy choice. The choice would be the strategy of public-private partnership (PPP) or the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), as applied to health policy. New Labour is deeply influenced by the thoughts and sentiments of Amitai Etzioni and the new communitarian movement. Repoliticisation is what stands out from all the contributions of reconstructing the Third Way along more progressive lines.
One major theme in discussions of New Labour and the Third Way more generally has concerned the Third Way's credibility as a social democratic force. Anthony Giddens's Third Way rests on a social theory of modernisation and globalisation and uses the notion of 'generative equality' to propose a new model for social policy. Private Finance Initiative (PFI) has been seen as an important part of the government's strategy to modernise public services and an economically feasible way of rebuilding the decaying public infrastructure, especially in the health service.
This part assesses some of the approaches, attitudes and assumptions surrounding the role of community and of communitarianism in the Third Way as manifested in Britain by New Labour. For Amitai Etzioni, 'cultivating communities where they exist and helping them form where they have been lost should be a major priority for future progress along the Third Way'. The part provides a challenge to accepted beliefs about the role of community and of communitarianism in New Labour's Third Way.
The Third Way is presented as a triumph of style over substance and the product par excellence of a soundbite political culture. A critical engagement with the discourse of the Third Way is integral to an understanding of the political character of New Labour, as well as in the forging of viable alternatives. The Third Way theory offered by Anthony Giddens has been appropriated by New Labour and other Centre-Left actors only selectively, where it is of use in developing the enduring agenda.