Here is the results of a web search I just did checking to see if anyone had ever used the term “Fourth Way”, in a sort of manner that suggests it is an answer to Tony Blair’s “Third Way”. In 2001, a journalist from India named Praful Bidwai did just that.
I thought the world needed to see this article, especially in light of Margaret Thatcher’s recent death, coupled with the news that Tony Blair’s short statement about Thatcher included his frighteningly proud observation that “…[S]ome of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world.”
That this article places Blairism in the context of the Thatcherism which preceded it is not a surprise. Everyone does that. As the previous quote from Tony Blair indicates, even Blair does that. But what is interesting is that Bidwai seems to have anticipated where things would go after the sheen wore off Blair’s style of politics, as he seemed quite confident it would.
That confidence, it is now becoming clear, was entirely justified: millions of Britons remind us this week of the damage Thatcher’s reign did to the UK, and the newly-elected Miliband Labour leadership’s orientation points to the strength of the rejection of Blair’s ideas within his own party. Both symbolically and substantively, it speaks to the whole world, this movement in Britain for a new set of ideas which can fend off hypercapitalism/market fundamentalism (the First Way), not sink to a Soviet-style authoritarian socialism (the Second Way), but also not merely cosmetically address the need for economic/social/ecological reform while uncritically accepting too much of the status quo (the Third Way).
Bidwai’s suggestion is that the next movement centre around a fight for “a human future based on decentralised popular democracy”, “within a framework that puts popular control of economic activity above private privilege.” The policy thrusts of the new Labour Party leadership appear to be following that advice to the letter. Ed Miliband has been pursuing initiatives to bring decision-making down to local and community scale (specifically focusing on delivering state services through non-exploitative relationship building – the “relational state” paradigm). He has also assertively readopted a strong regulation-oriented perspective with regard to capital after years of Blair/Brown deregulation – not so much in the sense of nationalising industry anymore, but in the sense of ensuring _control_ instead of just _ownership_. (As the Soviet experience proved pretty well, even if “the people” owned everything, it was the managers who ended up with the stuff when the revolution ended in 1991…those who control property and those who own it are not always the same thing.)
There are dangers in this approach as well, and possibly, if they are not studiously avoided, we may need a “Fifth Way” to sort it all out. Decentralisation only makes sense when it can deliver the goods in a way which improves on centralisation. Having formal state powers closer to the people but of no substantive use to those people runs the risk of repeating government downloading experiments characteristic of Blairism unless adequate funding is provided and adequate local capacity is built to sustain the new powers. It’s hard to build new “relationships” on the basis of the same old underfunding and lack of assets. Likewise, new forms of “control” over the economy must work in practice and not just be a proclamation of popular rights that never seem to get translated into substantive control over the levers of economic power. This is an approach which requires measurement and monitoring.
However, one advantage is that we’ve already seen how much the Blairite Third Way is just as much something to be avoided as the Two Ways which preceded it. We have much more information about what does and does not work now. The time has come for a new project, committed to transformative change, but mindful of the clear lessons of the past.
Anyway, here’s some guy from India who had that all figured out twelve years ago. Pretty cool, huh?