Could a revived SDP break through?
A large and diverse conference suggests that the Party is on the up
The most interesting thing about any party conference is the audience. So when I went along to the SDP annual conference on Saturday, the first thing I looked at wasn’t the stage but my fellow attendees.
Who were these people? Who would attend the annual conference of a party that most people think died decades ago?
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The first thing to say is that there were quite a lot of them. Today’s Social Democratic Party is the creation of a tiny group of activists who decided to carry on after David Owen’s SDP disbanded itself in 1990 (after coming behind the Monster Raving Loonies in the Bootle by-election). For much of the last thirty years, this barely surviving SDP could have held its annual conference in a taxi, but in 2021 here they were filling the Assembly Hall of Church House, Westminster. It was a gathering of hundreds, not thousands — but evidence of a growing membership.
Enough about quantity, what about the quality? I must admit I was expecting to find a gathering of elderly David Owen super-fans, their numbers boosted by an influx of UKIP refugees. After all, today’s SDP is a solidly pro-Brexit party. However, that is not what I found. A large minority of delegates were in their twenties and thirties. And these weren’t political anoraks either — most of them looked… normal.
As for the conference itself, it began with a couple of debates on policy motions — one on abolishing the pensions triple lock and another on giving academic and vocational subjects equal value in assessing schools. The first motion was defeated, and the second unanimously passed. What both debates had in common though was something highly unusual for the political events I’ve attended — they left me wanting to hear more not less from the floor.
The rest of the day, however, was taken up by a sequence of set-piece speeches. There was the leader’s speech from the William Clouston, but most speakers were non-members including David Starkey, Claire Fox and Lionel Shriver. It was an impressive line-up, albeit one that ploughed much the same anti-woke furrow.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But my unsolicited advice to the SDP is to focus more on what makes it stand out among the other small, anti-woke political parties — such as Reform UK and the Laurence Fox vehicle.
As well as having some properly thought-out policies and a sensible leader, the SDP also has a non-repellent activist base. These things don’t guarantee a political breakthrough, but they give the party a fighting chance.
As part of the non-repellent (sadly not as activist as I wish) base, I thank you for such a nice write up of what I’m proud to say is my party. We are a growing crew!
Whatever you guys do, please, *please* don’t make the mistake of getting into bed with the LibDems. That way lies madness and destruction.
Hadn’t realised it was still going – but good to hear it. What are its.key planks?
I suggest reading the new declaration: https://sdp.org.uk/new-declaration/ It sets out in broad terms the underlying principles of the party. There are more detailed policy positions on the website.
Thanks – will look
You mean ‘Who are its key planks’ and we’ll only know that *after* they get elected.
No. Pretty sure I meant what I said.
The key point to remember is that for an SDP candidate to win a Parliamentary seat someone from another, probably better known, party must lose. Either an established party has to lose it’s support in a big way or…. well that’s it really.
I used to troll the Telegraph’s UKIPper BTL commentators along exactly those lines. Whenever one of them spluttered that Nigel was going to win the next election, I used to ask them which seats he was going to take. The nutters would inevitably claim UKIP was going to take places like Christchurch, where the Conservatives have had a 20,000 majority since about 1066.
The SDP has surely gone a stealthy takeover in the Corbyn model? Owen and Shirley Williams and er er er oh yes Roy Jenkins and some Tory who crossed the floor were not Brexiteers or indeed keen 9n vocational education or private enterprise.
Nothing wrong with a bit of reinvention of course, indeed, highly commendable, but how did they get there from there to here?
40 years passed, and they got wise.
politicalbetting.com is a site totally up itself and beset by bores, but they nonetheless have a useful acronym for this sort of post title: QTWTAIN.
It stands for “questions to which the answer is No”.
But the headline doesn’t ask if the SDP could win a general election. To “break through” it needs only to be successful enough to effect change – just ask Ukip.
I would guess that it probably does have enough potential. Plenty of people want a conservative party to vote for, just not the Tories. The main problem for the SDP may be the number of other little outfits fishing in the same water – Reform UK, Reclaim, Ukip, Heritage party, For Britain and maybe others. They should (but won’t) unite.
It’s difficult for the SDP to form any kind of coalition with the other minor parties. Reform UK is a good example. Whilst the SDP and the other minor parties have small c conservative social and cultural values in common, on economics they’re a very different beast. On economics, Reform for example, tend to be more centre right, Thatcherite/Libertarian. The SDP is centre-left on economics and advocates a social market economy where the public and private sectors complement each other, rather than being in conflict. They’re not really a rolling back the state kind of party which makes forming coalitions with the like of Reform difficult. They found that out to their cost back in the 80s with the ill fated coalition with the Liberals (now the Liberal ‘Democrats’). Unless the coalition partner is on the same page for 95% of the issues, it just won’t work. That sounds a bit puritanical I know, but if the SDP got into bed with a coalition partner that only agrees with one half of what the party stands for and not the other, it would ultimately damage the party’s brand. I would think that the SDP would be a more comfortable home for the likes of disaffected Labour and Tory voters and people like Blue Labour.
Unless the coalition partner is on the same page for 95% of the issues, it just won’t work.
If it were “on the same page for 95% of the issues” it would more united than any political party is with itself.
The party leadership is open and honest about the party’s electoral chances at this stage in its development. They openly admit that the party is still very small (but growing little by little) and it will be a long, hard slog before it is in any position to be a genuine threat to the main parties, if ever. I think most of the membership understands and accepts this but sticks with the party anyway because the underlying principles and policies are such a refreshing alternative to the main parties. I don’t think you’ll find the party leader going around handing out business cards that say “The next Prime Minister of Britain” like Jo Swinson for example. They’re a bit more realistic than that.
And so the the answer’s still No.
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