Anthony Giddens (1938− )
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Last updated 2 Jun 2020
Anthony Giddens is one of the most prominent thinkers behind the third way, a philosophical approach that shaped those policies implemented by New Labour (1997-2010).
Although the term is fascist in origin, Giddens and others sought to reinvigorate social democracy in the context of globalisation. His outlook matched New Labour’s attempts to rebrand the party into an effective election-winning machine. To left-wing critics, it seems particularly appropriate that the third way itself was little more than a rebranding exercise.
Giddens has written extensively on a wide number of areas and is one of only a handful of sociologists who could said to have shaped public policy. Rewarded for his work with a peerage from Tony Blair, Giddens was the chief architect behind the third way. He described the third way as a modification of social democratic thinking in which the welfare system would be restructured to give people ‘a hand-up, not a hand-out.’ It also entails a fairer redistribution of wealth whilst avoiding the punitive levels of taxation that tainted the previous Labour governments of the 1970s. Another core aspect of the third way is the notion of stakeholding. The term seeks to move beyond the narrow concerns of shareholders and the belief that the profit motive should be the only legitimate concern of the private sector.
Whereas old Labour was ideologically wedded towards equality and social justice, new Labour sought to emphasise stakeholding. The third way also sought to rebalance the relationship between benefits and obligations with an emphasis upon benefit recipients accepting responsibility for their own behaviour. Welfare payments should therefore be tied towards appropriate behaviour with sanctions imposed on those who acted irresponsibly. This emphasis upon active welfare rather than passive welfare was a key feature of third way thinking. The aim of such an approach was to ensure that those who claimed benefits made efforts to escape the poverty trap.
The pragmatic mantra of New Labour in the field of welfare policy suggests an ideologically-light approach. However, this would be somewhat misleading. Giddens himself fully recognised the flaws with the left-wing approach to welfare policy, with its emphasis upon universality and recipients claiming something for nothing. Indeed, he is quoted as saying that “all welfare states create problems of dependency, interest-group formation and fraud.” Yet unlike figures from the New Right, Giddens believed passionately that welfare policy should be mended rather than ended. A welfare state constructed on the principles laid down by centre-left theorists such as Giddens would look very different indeed to that created in accordance with theorists like Charles Murray and Irving Kristol.