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Tuesday, March 15, 2011 

The return to the third way.

A strange thing happens to politicians once power is finally in their grasp. They start to either deny their past or actively contradict much of what helped their election in the first place. Some, it's true, in an attempt to assume a new identity for themselves and their wider party begin the process before they reach power, but it's only once they're in government and start introducing policies which go against their party's assumed core values that they truly start to claim the centre ground.

Nick Clegg's speech at the weekend to the Liberal Democrat spring conference will only be remembered for one thing, even if he boobed slightly by making clear that the spending cuts are a political choice rather than a necessity. No, it'll be noted if at all for how quickly Clegg has succumbed to the third way:

Our opponents try to divide us with their outdated labels of left and right.

But we are not on the left and we are not on the right.

We have our own label: Liberal.

We are liberals and we own the freehold to the centre ground of British politics.

Our politics is the politics of the radical centre.

We are governing from the middle, for the middle.

Apart from how Clegg seems to have conveniently forgotten that his party is the result of the marriage between the Liberals and the Social Democrats, and that many within the party would probably be happier described as the latter uncapitalised than the former, it also rather brings the curtain down on the party's positioning over the last ten years, which anyone with a properly functioning political antennae would categorise as centre-left rather than in the dead centre. It also signifies the wholesale abandoning of many of those that voted for the party last May, as if the way it's governed as part of the coalition hadn't already done so: with Labour and the Conservatives fighting over the supposed centre ground of politics, the short-lived Cleggmania was down to the party and him personally offering something different. In power, Clegg has gone from wanting to represent and fight for a "new politics" to the familiar status quo of tired triangulation like all those before him. Or as the esteemed BenSix puts its:

To say you’re not “left” or “right” but the “radical centre” is like shrugging off outdated labels of “black” and “white” to embrace the formulation “ebony and ivory”: a concept that’s more inane but sounds a little sexier.

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