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.

Tweets by @garygibbonblog

2 reader comments

  1. Ray Turner says:

    Don’t mean to belittle your blog Gary, just the people who are debating this question (incl my MP it seems!), but honestly, who cares. It is irrelevant isn’t it..?

    Its something for politico’s to argue over when there’s nothing more important to worry about…

    But what about Libya, Japan, Afghanistan, the rising “cost of existing” etc…?

    My advice to the politicians is to stop mass debating over the legacy of the SDP and get on with sorting out the real-world problems that we all face today…

  2. Saltaire Sam says:

    I have always found Shirley Williams speaks more common sense than most politicians and wonder how different the fate of the SDP might have been if she had become leader.

    The answer to your question is that we will never know. What we have learned in recent years is that you can only judge a party by what it does in power. Blair seemed like a good idea until he became PM and Dubya’s best friend. Before the election we were all knocked out by Nick Clegg and his willingness to stand up for ordinary people agains the privileged few. Now we know better.

    We’ve always known what the tories are about because for some obscure reason they have been in power so often but I do seem to remember even Margaret Thatcher sounding quite reasonable (admittedly against some very extreme left wingers) before she took power. She even quoted St Francis.

    Perhaps the reason we still remember the SDP with some affection is that David Owen never became PM.

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