21 Mar 2011

Who is the true heir of the SDP?

Just looked in on a seminar on a subject that those political obsessives amongst us can’t let go of –  the SDP.
It’s packed with ex-members, celebrated and unknown, who stand up one by one confessing, like an AA meeting, “I was a member of the SDP,” before launching into their own memories and analysis.

On the panel, Chris Huhne says it’s his party – the Lib Dems –  that is the true heir of the SDP. Bill Rodgers in the audience agrees but says that New Labour was the step heir.

Chris Huhne  also says there was a clear split between ex-Labour folk who joined the SDP … There were  the ones who were running screaming from Labour’s anti-European Union wing (they, broadly ended up in the Lib Dems, he argues) and those who were refugees from Labour’s 1980’s unilaterlism (they, he says, generally ended up wandering off with Dr Owen or elsewhere but couldn’t quite take the Liberals).

Greg Clarke (now a Tory minister) says that coming from a relatively humble background he might never have gone into politics if he hadn’t as a 16 year old been drawn to the new, more classless SDP. He argues that the Lib Dems aren’t really the heirs because they would’ve modernised anyway and shed their sandals as the “age of hippies” passed on across all politics and life.

And while the Commons debated Libya, Andrew Adonis reminded us of the occasionally convulsive power of conflict. Lord Adonis said that the Falklands war changed everything on the political scene. Without that rocket boost to Tory fortunes, he argues, it might all have been very different and the SDP might’ve soared. With that, they all toddled off, 30 years on from the SDP’s foundation, wistful looks in their eyes, into the night.

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