The Populism of the third way is a cancer now starting to kill
Easy answers and hypocrisy delivered with a little spin are no longer sufficient to weather the storm. We cannot continue under the populism of "the third way"
Cameron’s self-imposed moniker of being “the heir to Blair” was once delivered with the combination of flippancy and coy admiration. It was an all too recent time, when the third way remained at the heart of the conspiracy of the political classes - to be repeated by every future government, regardless of claimed political hue.
Vision, long term strategy and core ideologies were dead; the future of western government was indisputably focus groups, constant polling and short termist liberal politics. Welcome to the reactive government of populism.
Political leadership, the battle of ideas, freedom of debate in Parliament and beyond were the first casualties in the early millennium, their replacement with spin and political correctitude was barely noticed at first, and then heavily assuaged by a cult of individual consumerism and profligacy by debt that served as sufficient distraction.
Ten years later, the deferred burden of populism started to hurt; now it has started to kill. Its depth and spread has been so comprehensive that removing populism from the western system of government now may be enough to kill it off altogether.
The dismal tide of third way triangulation – the most recent and virulent form of populism in human history – began in the office of Anthony Giddens at the London School of Economics. It spread unhindered first to the United States, before returning to its host, and taking Europe by storm.
The homogenous mass of a weak liberal political class in the West couldn’t resist telling the demos whatever they wanted to hear: all are equal under the EU; multiculturalism works; large personal and national debt is a fact of life; anyone can go to university; anyone can own a house; wars and failed states only happen in distant lands; every nation can expect consistent growth; the boom will last forever.
All who drank the cool aid made the same mistakes, all experienced the same results: moral and fiscal bankruptcy on a scale history itself cannot recall.
When the cancer of populism started to kill the very governments that once relied upon it, it would have been logical to assume a new wave of principled politics of vision and clearly defined ideas would have risen in its place; that new leaders would have emerged to meet the challenge. We may have had to drink the same bitter medicine of Thatcher’s harsh 1979 government for a few years, but surely the necessity would have outweighed the discomfort?
What we have seen in Obama, Cameron, Hollande and Alexis Tsipras (Leader of the Greek SYRIZA Party) is conversely a gradually increasing state of delusion, to the point of wanton contradiction and absurdity in wilful ignorance of reality. And yet the public are still willing, often desperate, to buy the lies: this is just a bump in the road; normal service will shortly be resumed; next quarter we expect more growth; lets discuss AV, Lords reform and gay marriage.
Spain got away with more easy answers and a short term solution this week; Greece and Italy will soon be clamouring for more of the same. But the dismal tide is rising swiftly to meet the necks of any politician in the West who still believes easy answers and hypocrisy delivered with a little spin will be enough to weather the storm.
Germany and China had a long term vision that has in both cases provided consistency for 30-60 years, both in their economic and foreign policy outlook and strategy. They didn’t drink Gidden’s cool aid, but they are more than happy to pour it for the last few thirsty fools and patiently watch them drink deeply.
Ben Harris-Quinney is the Chairman of the Bow Group and Contributing Editor to The Commentator
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