- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

LONDON Prime Minister Tony Blair's much-ballyhooed "Third Way" of progressive politics has run into a rocky stretch, and the British leader is turning to his old pal and ally, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, to help get it back on track.
Mr. Clinton was meeting with Mr. Blair and other representatives of Europe's center left over the weekend at a secret location in England's sedate countryside. What they were searching for was a way to counter the growing power of the far right both on the Continent and in Britain.
The "Third Way" is the route that Mr. Blair and his reconfigured New Labor party took to gain power in 1997, ending 18 years in the political wilderness.
Essentially, the "Third Way" espouses principles such as stable management and economic prudence, with the government concentrating on basic issues such as education and training.
As one political analyst put it, this philosophy became a "beacon" for left-of-center parties around Europe, all of whom had "similar baggage to shed" heavy-handed "statism," domination by "dinosaur" trade union leaders, tax-and-spend policies that only created new problems and an inflexibility in dealing with them.
For Mr. Blair, what the "Third Way" became was a "magic carpet" for catapulting his left-wing Laborites into power, presenting them as business-friendly, tough on crime and reluctant to tax and spend. In 1997, he won by a landslide.
But much of the wind has gone out of the "Third Way." In Britain, crime is soaring and the prison population has risen to record levels. The government has resumed increasing taxes to rescue a dilapidated health service. The railroad network has deteriorated to the point where it is described as the worst in Europe.
Another major problem for the "Third Way" and a key reason for the West Country meeting at a stately home in England is that its benign philosophy of caring has run squarely up against the major headache of immigration, legal and illegal, across Europe.
That is the driving force behind the rise of far-right parties in France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria, as well as some striking local election victories by the anti-immigrant British National Party.
Center-left leaders from across Europe were invited to the England conference, which was expected to last three days. But political sources said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is trailing in his bid for re-election this year, would be absent. So would Lionel Jospin, who lost in the recent French presidential elections.
Insiders said delegates from several European socialist governments were on hand, along with representatives from the U.S. Democratic Party and Mr. Blair's own government and ruling Labor Party.
The key is Mr. Clinton, who despite Tony Blair's well-publicized success with it, is himself the father of the "Third Way." Mr. Clinton first sketched out the concept in a State of the Union address where he spoke of moving beyond a debate in which the government was either the enemy or the answer.
Mr. Blair embraced the concept days later in outlining the four basic values of equal worth, opportunity for all, responsibility and community. The "Third Way," he insisted "is not an attempt to split the difference between right and left. It is about traditional values in a changed world."
The British leader and the ex-president share something of a mutual admiration society. "I am a great admirer of Tony," Mr. Clinton said last year. "He and I will be friends for life." Mr. Blair has been equally effusive regarding Mr. Clinton.

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