Blairism creates inequality, say Germans

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR'S "Third Way" is a dead end, according to Labour's closest comrades in Europe, the German Social Democrats.

Their high-powered commission entrusted with modernising the party has concluded that inequality and poverty are growing in Britain, spawning a new underclass.

"Already, the number of people living below the poverty line is twice as high in Britain as it is in Germany," say the authors. Blairism, in other words, is not suitable for Germans. This argument is unlikely to trigger a revolution in Islington, but in Germany the effect on the beleaguered government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroder could be explosive.

The "Commission for Basic Values" that came up with this devastating verdict is no idle think-tank. It is led by Wolfgang Thierse, speaker of the parliament and deputy chairman of the Social Democrat party. The conclusions, leaked to the press before Mr Schroder had the chance to mark offending passages with his red pen, were to form the basis of the modernised party's new programme.

The document is particularly rude about the so-called "Blair-Schroder paper" rushed out on the eve of June's European elections. Rather than helping the European left in the polls, that mini-manifesto achieved the exact opposite, and triggered a ferocious ideological battle in Germany that has yet to subside.

The Blair-Schroder paper, packed with "Third Way" generalities and encumbered by the word "modern" in almost every sentence, was intended to launch Mr Schroder's Blairite crusade. But his own party now finds "severe weaknesses" in the joint Anglo-German approach to social democracy, because the authors had neglected to pay attention to differences between the countries. As the Communist world discovered a decade ago, there is no universal truth.

The Social Democrat theologians who penned the riposte admit that reducing job protection in Germany would reduce unemployment, but at an intolerable price to German society.

In a country where free and efficient health care, an egalitarian education system and generous pensions are taken for granted, the British experience offers little enlightenment, the authors argue.

Mr Schroder's conflict with the left wing of his party is deepening and defeats beckon in forthcoming regional elections. Opinion polls are no longer able to locate the "New Centre", voters who defected to the Social Democrats from the conservative camp at last year's national elections.

In the coming elections, these elusive voters are expected either to stay at home or cast their ballot for other parties.