It is the political party which refused to die. Is this now the time for the SDP to rise again?
Jumping before they were pushed, six Labour MPs have announced they will not stand at the new General Election, and the thing about this sextet is that they are all Momentum targets, and several are consistent Brexiteers: Kate Hoey, Stephen Pound, Stephen Twigg, Jim Fitzpatrick, Kevin Barron, Ronnie Campbell, not a consistent party, but consistently the more level-headed on Labour’s benches.
There stands in the wings the Social Democratic Party. The original SDP, as those with long memories or short history books will recall, was founded by a “Gang of Four” in 1981, splitting from the Labour Party over its increasingly lunatic left-wing stance. Even Kinnock’s Labour was moderate though compared with the Militant Tendency snapping at t its grassroots, and that Militant Tendency has transformed into Momentum. The foundation of the SDP has been spoken of as a model for a breakaway from Labour’s frequent descents into madness, and a warning against it.
After just 2 years the Social Democratic Party threw in its lot with the Liberal Party and in 1988, having failed to cause an earthquake, it dissolved and merged with the Liberal Party to form the Social and Liberal Democrats, now the Liberal Democrats. Not all came across: David Owen, one of the Gang of Four, refounded the SDP, and it carried on for two years with Lord Owen, one of the original Gang of Four, before dissolving, but again some stalwarts refused to go, and there is still a Social Democratic Party today.
The remnant SDP is tiny, still holding to the Limehouse Declaration but, and this is crucial, they are a pro-Brexit party, glad to accept WTO terms if no better deal is available. Is this a destination for breakaway Labour MPs, as it was in the heady days of 1981? The political landscape is different today, and the repulsiveness of Momentum’s Labour Party is like nothing seen before. Something must break.
Several peers have broken off Labour too, over the rampant anti-Semitism in the party’s ranks rather than its self-destructive European policy. They need no party to stay in Parliament and so can remain independent. Those with political vim, Kate Hooey being a prime example, may want a vehicle that could bring them back to the Commons, or at least to challenge Labour’s assumed ownership of the working class. Good luck to them.
In other news, Simon Franks (multimillion-pound entrepreneur and apparently a Eurofan etc) and his “United for Change” party / movement / vanity project was rumoured this week to be relaunching as “The United Party” (presumably after ChangeUK poisoned the waters on that name): still nothing official though. He would far from the first to launch a pro-EU party with fanfares and promises for the future. I lose track of the number there have been since 2016. If brevity is the soul of wit, these new Pro-EU parties are humour personified. Countdown to evaporation begins.
- SDP: The Birth, Life, and Death of the Social Democratic Party by Ivor Crewe and Anthony King
- The Blunders of Our Governments by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe
- By David Owen, co-founder of the SDP:
- By Shirley Williams, co-founder of the SDP:
- Climbing the Bookshelves (autobiography)