Clinton, Blair & Co hold a progressives' board meeting

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LEADERS OF many of the world's left-leaning governments met in Florence yesterday to bury past ideological rifts and map out a future in which they hope the poorest of the planet will see the benefits of economic growth.

The seminar is to be followed up by a bigger event in Berlin as early as next March, which will seek to develop a new set of "practical ideas".

Despite differing strands, there was consensus that the left generally is grappling with the problems of reconciling the creation of conditions for economic growth with adequate social protection.

The organisers avoided any mention of the "third way" ideology, which spawned the conference, although Tony Blair used the term on several occasions. Leaders including Bill Clinton, the US President, Gerhard Schroder, the German Chancellor, Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister and Henrique Cardoso, the Brazilian President, debated "progressive governance for the 21st century".

For proponents of the third way, the event marked an important stage in its evolution, from a small band of believers into a larger debate. But as some of the most powerful leaders gathered, one newspaper cartoon portrayed them with their eyes closed at a seance, with the caption: "Is the spirit of the left out there?"