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Helen Clark attends centre-left flock

Published: 1:00PM Sunday February 24, 2002

Centre-left leaders from around the world, including New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, meeting in Stockholm have suggestions that their ideology was becoming increasingly irrelevant amid a swing to the right in many recent elections.

"These people from the progressive perspective are not in decline. I think our ideas are pretty much in the centre of politics," British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a news conference at the end of the meeting of 11 leaders.

Six of the 11 countries represented by their prime ministers or presidents in Stockholm face elections this year, with the right wing giving several of the leaders a run for their money.

Asked if a shift rightwards rendered irrelevant the meetings initiated in 1997 by Blair and former US President Bill Clinton, Britain's Labour prime minister, who won a second term last year, joked: "I didn't fail. We succeeded rather well."

"Parties even on the right are having to adopt some of these perspectives to gain support," Blair said. "What is interesting is whatever the changes of government... the basic territory of political discourse and ideas is where we are."

In a communique, the leaders recommited themselves to their modernised centre-left philosophy, dubbed the Third Way, combining a strong role for governments to provide a welfare net with market economics as well as support for poor countries.

But with the left losing elections in the United States, Italy, Denmark and Norway, pressure from the right on issues like crime and immigration was reflected in Stockholm with Blair, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and his New Zealand counterpart Helen Clark all talking tough on those areas.

Election brainstorming

Clark, whose Labour party is ahead of the centre-right National Party in polls before an election that must be called by December, rejected suggestions the left was in retreat.

"I think that's a complete beat up," she said. "The leaders here represent a very strong ground in politics and we can expect to see more such governments elected in the future."

Clark said now George W Bush was US president the summits were still important and enabled centre-left leaders to discuss how to deal with a Republican administration in Washington.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who won a second term in 2000, said he had a few informal tips for Jospin who is running against French President Jacques Chirac in the two-round presidential election in April and May.

"He gave me very good advice and I will follow it," Jospin said, adding that he discussed with Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson his upcoming election in September and talked to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who also faces voters that month.

Sweden's Persson, whose Social Democrats are ahead in polls, said even if the political pendulum might appear to be swinging to the right in some countries, it would always return.

In the meantime, Blair, who will hold the next meeting of centre-left leaders in Britain in 2003, would seek new members of the progressive club in Africa and Asia.

Source: Reuters