Neoliberal Triangulation R.I.P.

by Charlie_East_West on September 30, 2013


Triangulation was first used by Bill Clinton’s chief political advisor Dick Morris as a way to describe his strategy for getting Clinton reelected in the 1996 presidential election. Morris articulated a set of policies that were different from the traditional policies of the Democratic Party – with a model hybrid of right-wing economic and left-wing social policies. This policy of triangulation was then adopted by Tony Blair and New Labour – and in the UK was dubbed “The Third Way” – but was in fact, like so many things within New Labour, just a giant rebrand of many aspects of Thatcherism and neoliberal economic policy – albeit with more emphasis on health and education commitment. Ideological choice for the voter had become watered down.

Finally, we have a choice. After years of governmental versions of Thatcherism that slowly morphed into neoliberal economic triangulation under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown we are now facing a move towards to very separate economic and social ideologies within our major political parties. In the left corner we now have Milibandism in its infancy. An ethos that has the potential to be based on corporate regulation, fair pay, better living standards and anti-foreign interventionism wrapped up in a bundle as 21st century social democracy or socialism. In the right corner we now have postmodern neoliberalism. An ethos based corporate laissez faire, two tier society and a deep rooted propensity towards foreign interventionism wrapped up in a bundle as 21st century capitalism.

Within one speech, Ed Miliband has reshaped British politics and offered the electorate a choice between left wing or right wing – not by the traditional models of axis between the two – as shown throughout the 1980’s, but instead taking into account the contextualisations of 2013. As Jonathan Freedland highlighted last week, “This was the thread that ran through Ed Miliband’s fourth speech as party leader: a new and emerging strain of left populism. It confirms Miliband’s larger ambition: not merely to win power the Blair/Brown way, within parameters set by Conservatism, but to redraw those lines, to shift the centre ground itself leftward.”

Immediately, we have had the default response from the Tories. Slap a form of positive discrimination towards a small windfall for married couples, lavish praise on “hardworking families“, demonise the unemployed and crawl off to Brussels to demand the protection of bankers bonuses. Combine this with the unchecked and unlimited quasi-privatisation of the NHS or state education, or just blatant privatisation of the Royal Mail (a sector that Thatcher herself wouldn’t even touch) – and the Tories (and the Orange Booker Lib Dems) have lurched even further into the realms of neoliberalism. It is presented to the so called “hardworking families” as progressive compared to conservative or right-wing. This is a fallacy. It is just Thatcherism on speed. It is Osbornomics in practice.

After banking crash of 2013, and the subsequent global depression that followed, the rules of engagement towards right wing / Thatcherism economic thinking looked ideologically bankrupt. To save themselves from themselves, the right wing political and business elite got busy, and with a last throw of the right-wing dice, they decided revive economic neoliberalism under the guise of austerity. The strategy that followed was to forget the cause of the financial collapse (the banks) and slowly shift the angle of attack towards the state. The blame moved towards bloated public services, welfare and local authorities for the deficit, create an ongoing negative narrative against all of this, and then pick them all apart to free them up for privatisation and free market opportunities – all of which can be defined within five key pillars of neoliberalism:-

1. The market comes first. Liberating free enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government – no matter how much social damage this causes. A narrative has been set out to convince us this is good for us. It’s like Reagan or Thatcher’s model of supply-side and trickle-down economics – but in 2013, the wealth doesn’t trickle down to us very much – as shown by the current claims of growth, despite Britain having the worst living standards for over 100 years.

2. Cutting public expenditure. Once again this is framed as reducing government’s role, wrapped up as a necessary form of austerity. Of course, the neoliberals do not oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business – as shown with state support financing of our financial services and energy companies – despite the eventual price and cost to the consumer.

3. Deregulation. A by all means necessary reduction of government regulation of anything and everything that could diminsh profits.

4. Privatisation. By placing a deregulated market first, and then selling state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors – again by using the excuse of austerity. This includes banks, postal services, rail, roads, electricity, schools, hospitals and even the water we drink out of a tap – all to the highest bidder, regardless of where the company is based. Although this is usually done under the auspices of creating greater efficiency and choice, privatisation concentrates wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs – as shown with higher water bills, energy costs, phone bills, bank charges, leaky water pipes and patient care charges attached to forms of previously free NHS operations such as hip replacements.

5. End the concept of the public good / community responsibility. Replace this with “individual responsibility.” By pressuring the poorest people in a society to find their own solutions to their lack of benefits, employment, and even education. When they cannot find a zero sum solution, just start blaming them, and use the right wing media to reinforce the blame. Then, if they fail, just tarnish them as as “lazy” or a “scrounger” and tell them to buck the fuck up, keep calm and carry on and live on £50 a week – just like Iain Duncan Smith can, apparently. Big Society? My arse.

Put all of this together and what do we get? An neoliberal offering to turn Britain into one giant shopping centre, or share price. As long as the public can smell their own greed and see the opportunity for a fast buck, then they will not feel personal shame or guilt towards poverty elsewhere. By offering financial sweeteners to the general public – as shown through Osborne’s new housing market bubble, or share price floatations aimed at giving the public a quick financial win, it plays upon the basic human instinct of greed and selfishness.

It looked as if Britain was to remain in a vortex of untouchable economic neoliberal propaganda. Under the coalition government, Britain was being hoodwinked towards the outer reaches of Thatcherism. Disturbingly, it looked as if Ed Miliband had bought into the neoliberal economic consensus through their early indicators of proposed Labour maintenance of austerity through accepting George Osborne’s recent spending review.

Then suddenly, and remarkably, Ed Miliband got on his feet last Tuesday and delivered a speech that tore into the neoliberal settlement. He picked them apart, one by one, and offered a starting point for Milibandism – based on a need for fairness through a regulated market, state intervention, hints at renationalisation of rail and utilities and move towards collective responsibility.

Within one speech, Labour has repositioned itself on the political compass. Neoliberal triangulation has died, and suddenly we are now facing a healthy debate about an ideological choice.

As such, in meat and two veg terms, the voter choice has now become this:

– Get a self serving quick windfall from the private sector dismantling of the public sector – vote Tory.
– Get a fair deal both private and public sectors – vote Labour.

Milibandism is still in its infancy, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions on Labour’s policy on economic austerity, welfare, health and education. But, we are now having a debate about fairness for the many being more important than the profits for the few. We are also facing the delicious prospect of waving goodbye to neoliberal economic triangulation and the endless fight for the centre ground.

Welcome to left v right – as defined under the auspices of 2013 rules.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jackie_South September 30, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Good post. Dick Morris’ theory of Triangulation was to lift the debate to a higher level off of the usual political spectrum. The problem with taking this approach is that in finding that separation, you are by definition separating yourself from the rest of the debate and normal people’s opinion.

That could work in a time when there was a relatively high degree of trust in politicians: eg in the early Blair years. In times when trust in government is low, it is disastrous: it just looks elite and out of touch. I’m sure that is why both parties in the UK are becoming more populist, why Obama beat Hilary and why the Tea Party gains strength. Triangulation is indeed dead.


Charlie_East_West September 30, 2013 at 6:11 pm

I complete agree with that, Jackie.

Dick Morris – A spectacular exit and a spectacular long term grudge against the Democrats and in particular, the Clintons. Fox News is a suitable home for him.

It begs the question – are advocates of the Third Way/Triangulation just right wingers in disguise? Or just right wing rebranders? Morris, Blair, Mandelson et al…


George_East September 30, 2013 at 11:14 pm

The interesting thing about Obama – is that he ran as a populist (or at least more of a populist than Hillary) but much of his Presidency has been the epitome of self-defeating triangulation.


Charlie_East_West September 30, 2013 at 11:18 pm

The US offers a form of forced triangulation strangulation.


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