In the early 1990s, a new political strategy was used to capture the centre ground of western politics. The Third Way sought to triangulate the best policies from both the left and the right in an effort to create a new coalition of voters.
The Third Way
It aimed to merge neoliberal economics with ideas of progressive social policy and social justice. Whilst embracing the free market, it also recognised that its outcomes were neither entirely fair or self-regulating and thus sought to use the state to correct imbalances.
Bill Clinton, the then young Governor from Arkansas, used this strategy to devastating effect against the incumbent George H.W. Bush in the 1992 US elections. Following his example, Tony Blair led the Labour Party to a resounding victory in the UK, this was after a considerable period of restructuring and shifting their economic policies towards embracing neoliberalism.
Likewise, over the last two decades, there have been many manifestations: Gerhard Schroder in Germany, Matteo Renzi in Italy, even David Cameron in the UK has been seen as the ‘heir to Blair’. Indeed, the popularity of the Third Way was undeniable.
Decline and Fall
Over two decades later, however, the Third Way is now on the back foot. A compilation of perceived losses – both individual and collective – has sent many into a tailspin.
After a sustained period in the centre ground of politics, they have become the establishment and orthodoxy many are seeking to undermine. Crucially, a series of foreign policy blunders, the economic collapse of 2008, and a souring attitude towards politicians, in general, has led the Third Way into a period of decline.
Yet, has the election of Emmanuel Macron in France put an end to this decline? Has he shown other western leaders how to take on the populists and win?
Macron has the youth and dynamism that mirrors that of Clinton and Blair. Similarly, his platform is unashamedly internationalist, it embraces the free market and the private sector, but recognises the want for liberal social policy.
His background as a civil servant and his time in government has made him credible to the Left, but significantly, his time in the private sector made him appeal to the Right – especially those who were concerned about Marine Le Pen.
The creation of a new party, En Marche, allowed for his image as a centrist to become solidified, something not done by his Third Way predecessors.
Since that time, he has been hailed as the new poster boy of the liberal progressives around the world, he has shaken hands with Trump, made friends with Merkel and formed an alliance that has sent the liberal internet into a tailspin by just being photographed with Justin Trudeau.
Such is the desperation from some liberals.
However, can he realistically succeed? Given its placement within recent events, much of the liberal centre-left have elevated Macron to the position of the anti-Trump: the young Frenchman is the Third Way centrist that will lead the progressives into a new era.
Due to this increased level of expectation, however, Macron will have a hard time delivering on all of his many promises.