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French fume as Blair attacks 'Socialist' name
Paul Webster in Paris and Andy McSmith in London
Sunday November 7, 1999
Tony Blair has enraged the French Left by floating a plan to change the name
of one of Europe's oldest political institutions, the Socialist
The British Prime Minister privately suggested to French Socialist leaders
that it should be renamed the Centre-Left International.
The SI traces its roots back to the nineteenth-century International Working
Men's Federation, at which Karl Marx gave the inaugural address in 1864.
After the First International was destroyed by a rift between Marx and the
Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, a successor was launched in Paris in 1889,
principally by German Marxists.
Blair's argument was that the current IS, which has 190 affiliates, is too
dominated by European parties, when many of the best progressive political
ideas are coming from parties which which never use the word 'socialist' -
like the Democratic Party in the US. The word 'socialist' has also almost
entirely disappeared from the language of New Labour.
Blair will be addressing the SI conference in Paris tomorrow, but aides
insist that his remarks will be brief and uncontentious. He dropped plans to
write an article in the downmarket French newspaper Journal de Dimanche .
One claimed that misunderstandings had arisen from the different meanings
attached to words like 'liberal' on different sides of the Channel. He added:
'Tony isn't going to push this. He knows it's a non-starter.'
SI chairman Pierre Mauroy, who was Prime Minister of France from 1981 to
1984, revealed Blair's surprising proposals for the four-day meeting, that
include a joint free market manifesto drawn up with the German Chancellor,
'We were rather taken aback when Tony Blair proposed to change the name of
one of the most powerful international political organisations in the world,'
Mauroy said. 'The Presidium (the movement's policy body) rejected the
Centre-Left idea out of hand with as much diplomacy as it could muster. We
were even more surprised when he suggested that Bill Clinton and the
Democratic Party should be invited to join us. We don't consider the
Democrats as a socialist movement.'
Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian Newspapers Limited 1999