Centre-left leaders plot the Third Way's historic path

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The Independent Online
FIRST IT was Bill Clinton's Democrats, then New Labour got on board. Now the rest of the world's centre-left leaders are clamouring to jump on to the "Third Way" bandwagon.

The Swedes, the Danes, the Dutch, the Italians and the Brazilians are all keen to join a series of seminars on the new route between Socialism and the free market.

Downing Street has dismissed suggestions that the old Socialist International forum could be ditched for a more market-friendly talking shop. But the net is being cast ever wider in a quest for the philosophical future of the new left.

Already, Tony Blair and Clinton have met three times - once in Arizona and twice at Chequers - to talk about how they can prevent the right from seizing the ideological initiative as they did during the era of Thatcher and Reagan.

The US President has also talked the issue over at a meeting with the Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, in May. This month he had a similar talk with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil.

Last night Mr Blair's official spokesman said another Chequers meeting was on the cards. "An awful lot of the European left-of-centre leaders want to get involved in this. You will see it developing," he said.

"Just as in this country the right is moving right and the left is taking over the centre, that's happening around Europe."

European leaders are now much more receptive to American ideas than they were a few years ago, he suggested. At a recent meeting in Cardiff they discussed both economic reform and the flexibility of labour markets.

Plans for the new informal grouping, which would stand between the Socialist International and the right-wing International Democrat Union, are reported to have been discussed at a number of meetings between world leaders.

According to a report in the International Herald Tribune, the new movement could be launched later this year if the centre-left candidate in September's German elections, Gerhard Schroeder, emerges as victor.

Supporters of the Socialist International said last night that Labour would never persuade its conference to disaffiliate formally from it. The PM's spokesman said that was not on the agenda.

However, the Socialist International could look increasingly old-hat as centre-left leaders choose to do their talking elsewhere.

The venerable forum dates back to 1889 and has its roots in Marxist philosophy. In Mr Blair's own words from 1994, it stands for "a world offering everyone the opportunity to lead a meaningful, emancipated life... in which human rights are guaranteed within the framework of a society based on solidarity." A bit like the Third Way, really.

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