The SDP has won the argument…and Liberals must not forget it

October 5, 2010 § 3 Comments

For a political party that eventually had a very sad, lonely, exit in the early 1990’s, the SDP (Social Democratic Party) has had a major impact on modern British politics and, I would argue, has won the argument in terms of how we should run our country.

Each major party, even the Tories-though they may not admit it or even recognise it in themselves-is battling for that centre-left ground which, for a brief shimmering moment, the SDP once dominated.

I was just ten or so when the SDP disbanded and, you may not be surprised to hear, politics was not exactly my first priority, but I’ve no doubt that had it have been around when I was making a choice about which party to join, I may well have stapled my colours to the SDP mast.

It truly did represent a ‘third way’ in British politics…different to the Labour left and the Conservative right.

And if the early 90’s was about ‘new’ Labour acquiescing to parts of the Thatcher legacy, then the Noughties were all about the Tories, however begrudgingly, accepting an SDP centrist style philosophy, if only in their rhetoric.

The one party which seems unable to capitalise-for want of a better word-on the acceptance of mainstream social democracy is the one in which that tradition was enveloped-to create a singular ‘third force’ In British politics, the Liberal Democrats.

I am a social liberal, I believe in fairness, in social justice, in everyone being given a fair go.

I believe in this Coalition-it is the right thing for Britain- but so called ‘Orange Book’ Ministers must remember that, as Lib Dems, they are the successors to two fine traditions; not only the cause of liberalism (individual liberty, personal freedom, etc) but also that of centrist social democracy (fairness, decency.)

I’m thankful that the likes of former SDP MP’s, Charles Kennedy and Shirley Williams, are supporting this Government but am also certain that they will be there to point out, when needed, when true socially liberal beliefs have to be centre stage.

We’re re-shaping British politics for good.

It must be effective for all of those millions of people who rely on our party to promote freedom, fairness and the need to be green.

UPDATE (04/12/’10): I am, of course, aware that the SDP continues, as a regional/local party, in parts of the country.

When I talk of its ‘death’ in this post, I’m referring to when it ceased to be a national political force.

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§ 3 Responses to The SDP has won the argument…and Liberals must not forget it

  • I should point out that when the SDP merged with the Liberal party, it was the Liberal party that was more to the left.
    Prior to the publication of the Orange Book and the rise of David Laws and Nick Clegg, the Liberal party was an overwhelmingly social liberal party. The leader of the SDP, David Owen, was the most right wing of all the high profile politicians within the Alliance.

  • Clive says:

    I think I’m with you on the sentiment of this post but would challenge the history. The SDP ended the same way the Liberal Party did: merger to form the Liberal Democrats. Hardly sad or lonely! The breakaway SDP “tick” continued in Parliament until 1992 and I believe still has a few councillors, as does the breakaway continuing Liberal Party. I also wouldn’t differentiate too sharply on fairness versus freedom. In many ways it was the Social Democrats, while in Labour, who helped bring about many of the social liberalisations of the 60s and 70s. Roy Jenkins was of course the great reforming Home Secretary. I suspect one of the reasons for the authoritarianism of New Labour was the loss of much of the liberal strand of social democracy in Labour in 1981.

  • Chris says:

    I’m glad to see you’re entering territory you were always destined for, Mat. Your passion for local issues will serve to make you a fine cllr. But I take issue with your claim that all parties, including the Conservatives, have been waging a battle to occupy centre-left ground since 1990. The contest has been about how far Labour and the Lib Dems can wrest politics back from the right, a place the Tories have been happy to remain to this day. Looking at the Labour government and the current right-leaning coalition, the answer is not very. Labour compromised far too many of its policies and ideals to claim it had more than one foot to the left. And you only have to look at the public’s suspicion – nay, anger – at the unions, or in the lack of public opposition to this coalition’s many unfair, unnecessary, ill-thought-out and ultimately harmful cuts to realise the majority in this country are still very much in thrall to the centre-right. If not the right wholesale. But good luck with all your forthcoming political ventures. Here’s hoping you can instil some sense into a once-respected party.

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