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The book offers a comparative analysis of the recent changes in ideology and party programmes on economic policy of the British Labour Party and the German SPD (S0zialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands). Using a historical institutional approach, Knut Roder focuses on labour market policies and explains the process of policy change. The book offers a unique combination of quantitative party policy content analysis with qualitative data and numerous interviews conducted for this book with the parties' policy makers. It reveals the Labour Party's and the SPD's search for an alternative approach to economic policy during their long spell in opposition in the 1980s and 1990s, and illuminates how both parties arrived at the current 'third way' / 'Neue Mitte' rhetoric. Their search for new policies was highly problematic, and led eventually to a 'delayed', incremental adoption of neo-liberal inspired economic policies. There was a fundamental paradigm shift in the 1980s from Keynesianism to neo-liberalism, and the parties' slowness to adjust to this shift, Roder argues, was largely responsible for their electoral failure.
Similarly, their eventual adjustment to the new paradigm explains their electoral success in the 1990s. Applying the historical institutional analysis, this book argues that both parties' policy choices during those years offer not only a revealing insight into 'internal' and 'external' influences that accelerate as well as obstruct party policy change; they also explain their current policy positioning. This highly topical study also reflects on the current problems faced by social democratic parties in government when espousing policies of severe pragmatism and fiscal prudence, and provides a historical, medium-term perspective on both parties' substantial changes in labour market policy. There is now a good deal of interest in the Third Way and the Neue Mitte, and this book provides much needed empirical detail, as web as a solid analysis of the substance of these ideas. It will be of great interest to students and researchers in comparative politics, social democracy and economic policy.
Knut Roder teaches Political Economy at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus and is an Invited Scholar at the Instituto Juan March - Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Ciencias Sociales, Madrid.