Beyond The Blair Effect

Tony Blair's landslide win in Britain's general elections has produced a huge Blair effect. Political parties all over Europe are starting to claim that they offer--or will soon--the same winning policies as Blair. Mostly, they are wrong.

Simplified to a sound bite, Blair's policies amount to capitalism with a human face. Blair's avowed commitment to the open market is moderated by the belief that it alone can't solve every problem in a socially acceptable way. This credo played well with the Brits, who have endured immense pain in the past 18 years as the Tories restructured the economy. They are clearly eager for some respite and opted for it by electing Blair's newly refurbished Labor Party.

Contintentals suffering from double-digit unemployment and lackluster growth feel that they, too, have earned relief. They couldn't be more wrong. Their pain is real. But it isn't the product of restructuring, as experienced in Britain and the U.S. On the contrary, it results precisely from their failure to adjust to the rigors of global competition.

Unfortunately, the French Socialist and the German Social Democratic parties remain deaf to the most important part of Blair's message: his strong embrace of market forces. Worse still, their leaders, such as Lionel Jospin in France, have seized on Blair's win to justify trotting out tired old interventionist policies, from sharing-out existing work to promoting subsidized make-work schemes.

Blair completed a long process of remaking the Labor Party. Continentals wanting to imitate his success need to grasp that Blair's New Labor is firmly at the center of British politics, and resolutely of the 1990s. To reproduce the full Blair effect, they need to forsake doctrinaire nostrums--whether of the right or left--and jettison policies that are well past their "sell-by" date.

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