Miles Kington: Is the Third Way the Betamax of politics?

'If Chaos Theory were true, Japanese scientists would be trying to eradicate Brazilian butterflies'
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Where are They Now? Yes, once again we go on the trail of names that have disappeared from the headlines. But this time it's not vanished people we're looking for – the Peter Mandelsons, the Jarvis Cockers, the Hinduja brothers and so on – but vanished things like the Sinclair C-5, the Social Democrat Party, Lymeswold cheese, etc. Not those particular things, because they are very boring, but exciting things like...

Anthrax. Only two months ago it was the most fashionable disease in America. Now it is no longer even mentioned. It was caused by envelopes, which if opened without precautions could blow the germs all over you, and led to lots of jokes about being afraid to open envelopes at American award ceremonies. Initially it was thought to be spread by the Taliban and was fiercely condemned, but then, when it seemed that an American was responsible, it gained official approval and has now joined the list of officially endorsed diseases such as Aids, alcoholism, pretzelitis etc.

A chad. This was something that enabled President Bush to be elected, so it has been destroyed.

Betamax. There were two systems vying for control of our VCRs. One was VHS, one was Betamax. Everyone agreed that Betamax was far better. But VHS was better marketed. Betamax is now nowhere to be seen, except in the Museum of Failure, Arlington, Wisconsin. Nobody ever talks about Betamax now, because its failure shows for once and for all that when people say, "Oh, quality will sooner or later rise to the top", they are wrong, that the public is an ass and that we are all suckers.

Chaos Theory. A few years back Chaos Theory was a fashionable scientific idea, because it was the first theory that explained things in terms of unpredictability. However, only a few scientists really understood it, and no matter how often they explained it, nobody in the public (which is an ass, see last entry) really understood it. If pressed, they would say, "Oh, yeah, that's the idea that if a butterfly beats his wings in the Amazon forest, it could cause a hurricane in Japan". If this were true, Japanese scientists would even now be trying to eradicate Brazilian butterflies. Chaos Theory has vanished, probably in accordance with the Wave Theory of Ideas, which says that ideas return in cycles of popularity. See Yo-yo.

The Yo-Yo. The yo-yo was immensely popular in the 1920s, then reverted to being an obscure toy until the 1990s when it re-emerged, now equipped with gears and flywheels and things which made it far too easy. It has now vanished again and will be back in 70 years, a bit like Halley's Comet. Or scooters.

Britpop. For years the British music industry has been looking for a soft drink to break the stranglehold of Coke and Pepsi, and make Britain a similar fortune. We had Tizer, yes. And Vimto, and Irn-Bru, but none of them ever became the big one. Everyone thought Britpop was going to be the big thing in the 1990s, but it was too sugary and synthetic, and went the way of Lymeswold cheese.

The war against drugs. When President Bush announced the "war against terrorism", it joined a long series of wars which have been declared by presidents and prime ministers over the years. They all have one thing in common; none of them has ever been won. Before terrorism, it was the war against drugs, and the war against Aids, and before that the war against crime, and poverty, and famine, and – well, we still have all those things. Send for John Birt.

The "Third Way". This come from JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, where Blair Baggins, the hobbit who is looking for a solution to the world's problems, comes to a fork in the road. One way is the path to capitalism, one to socialism. But Blair Baggins sees, or thinks he sees, an overgrown third way and enthusiastically decides to take that. A long time later he comes back down the third way, unwilling or unable to tell people what he has seen down there or whether it leads anywhere, and he never refers to it again.

In our next round-up of 'Where are They Now', we shall looking at pashminas, French francs, Black Forest gateaux, etc, etc.

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