The following comments on triangulation were made in January 2008
Since its assumption of office in 1997, New Labour has unashamedly adopted triangulation as a modus operandi. In the Tory-Labour electoral battle, triangulation consists in New Labour's strategy of adopting policies to the right of Conservative home territory, thus leaving the Tories nowhere to pitch their tent. Blair and Brown have pursued traditional Thatcherite fare: privatisation, PFI and benefit cuts, along with a disregard for civil liberties, sycophantic pro-Americanism, EU bashing and an expansion of religious schools. Only in those areas where either Labour’s pre-election commitment was too strong to abandon (e.g. devolution to Scotland) or where popular feeling is overwhelmingly anti-Thatcherite (e.g. in favour of high levels of spending on health and education), has triangulation not been applied.
Triangulation to be successful, however, has external and internal preconditions. In the external environment, i.e. outside the Labour party, triangulation generally only operates effectively in a two party system in which it is difficult for a new party or an existing smaller party to colonise the territory vacated. In Germany for instance the rightward shift in SPD led to a growth in the reformed communists, with the PDS, capturing territory abandoned by the social democrats.
Internally, the party pursuing the triangulation strategy must have freedom of policy manoeuvre. First, the party leadership must be devoid of principle to perform triangulation manoeuvres. Blair fitted that role perfectly. Further, the rank and file of the party need to be pacified. In the case of New Labour two processes were at work here. One was the process of de-democratisation which progressed step by step from 1980s (expulsions, the downgrading of conference and other elected bodies); the other was a desire to surrender all decision-making to the leadership if that were the price of wining, with the result that a cult of obedience is created. But it is not just the members of the party that need to be silenced, but the interest groups behind the party must be either by-passed or won around. Britain’s Labour supporting trade unions, after eighteen years of Tory government, have clung to the New Labour boat like drowning men, more keen to stay alive than worry about the direction of the boat.
Triangulation, of course, is a strategy not an ideology. Given that triangulation more than anything else has characterised the New Labour’s period of office since 1997, we can explain the ‘empty feel’ of the whole New Labour project. The only ‘ideological’ element injected into the policy, apart from its Thatcherite inheritance, has been Tony Blair’s religious conservatism illustrated in his crusading zeal which he shared with George Bush and which was also evident in his promotion of religious schools.
That the British left has reached a state such as the one described above without serious challenge is an indictment of a whole generation of left-wing people in Britain.