Thinking back about the SDP & the parallels with the TIG

My good friend and fellow blogger Phil Holden has recently been pondering on the issue of the new Independent Group in the HofC and in doing so reflecting on the rise and fall of the SDP. His posting is accessible via this link:-

phlhldn.blogspot.com/2019/02/so-chuka-chucked-it-in-for-what.html

One particular part of Phil’s posting stood out for me and it is this:-

‘The SDP foundered in part on whether it should be a party of the left, taking on Labour in a fight to the death, as David Owen wanted, or a centre-party that cosied up to the Liberals, as Roy Jenkins wanted. Jenkins of course won that one.’

As someone who had only joined the old Liberal Party on New Years Day 1980* I was very new to politics when the SDP came along soon after and then I was swept along in the tide that was the famous Crosby by-election**. Heady days indeed but my perspective is just a little different to Phil’s.

Firstly, I think it is fair to say that we Liberals looked upon David Own as a stubborn difficult person with rather right-wing views (who seemed obsessed with NATO for some odd reason) but that the other 3 of the Gang of 4 were to the left of him and far more in tune with Liberal values. Liberals have always been at their best when they espouse radical and left of centre views. Attempts to look moderate or centrist will always fail in my book.

So I saw Owen, Rodgers, Williams and Jenkins from the other end of the telescope to Phil, indeed in my view Owen was probably a big factor in the failure of the SDP along with our appallingly warped electoral system of course. We Libs often referred to Owen as ‘Dr Death’, probably because we feared he would kill us off along with the SDP. In truth he nearly did but we survived and prospered until we tried to commit ritual suicide in the Clegg era on a worryingly moderate platform with one infamous and devastating political U-turn – Tuition Fees.

That there was no love lost between the Liberals and Owen to me is a given and it will be interesting to see whether anyone from the IG starts to fill Owen’s boots again – I hope they don’t but fear they might. And I say that because in my experience many in the Labour Party hold views that are well to the right of us Liberals.

And just to be nostalgic, my abiding memory of the Crosby By-election was a public meeting in Deyes High School, organised by the SDP/Liberal Alliance. It was packed out and standing room only. Obviously, Shirley was there as the soon to be winning candidate, along with Roy Jenkins and Joe Grimond the former Liberal leader who had saved his party from the political wilderness in the 1960s. Being in the same hall as these 3 was wonderful to a fresh-faced political lad like me. Ah memories……

And talking of SDP/Liberal Alliance memories, whilst I’m at it, here’s another story told to me by my very good friend Roy Connell. One day during the heady days of the Alliance he was asked in to drive Roy Jenkins and BBC reporter Kate Adie on an open-top tour of parts of Liverpool. It seems that at one point he had to pull up sharply and Jenkins and Adie were thrown around a bit. Roy can still hear ringing in his ears the words ‘steady driver’ from Jenkins.

* I had read the 3 main party manifestos for the 1979 General Election and concluded I was a Liberal.

** I lived (and still do) in that constituency (now named Sefton Central) and got to know Shirley Williams well. She is indeed a lovely person and the fact that she became a life-long friend of Anthony Hill the already selected Liberal candidate for the seat (who stepped down for her to be the Alliance candidate) says a lot about how well the SDP and Liberals got on in our part of the world back in the early 1980s and indeed many of my friends in the present Lib Dem Party are former SDP activists.

Reverse this phrase – ‘Labour gathering Momentum’

www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/25/momentum-loyalty-test-would-be-mps-labour-corbyn

The Guardian has this interesting piece on its web site.

That Labour is ‘suffering’ another period of entryism akin to that it had ‘trouble’ with in the 1980’s (Militant) is a given. But entryism and the radical changing of direction of political parties is nothing new although Labour in particular does seem have periods where what it believed in yesterday is no longer what it believes in today more often than other parties. It’s social democrat and hard left wings seem to be in continual battles to be top dog you might say.

But if you look at the Tories now they are nothing like the political party of Heath or even Major. Often now referred to as ‘Bluekip’ and at times leaning worryingly towards fascism is it not reasonable to look upon all those UKIP supporters and activists joining and voting Tory as entyists too?

And then there was the Clegg period running the Lib Dems. Apart from that period being an utter disaster for the Party there were what seemed to be very genuine fears amongst the party membership and indeed the electorate that what had been a genuine party of the center left under say Kennedy, Grimmond etc. had been hauled over to the right, certainly in economic policy areas. Not quite entryism but a significant and truly unwise experiment which may well take years to ‘wear off’ with left leaning liberal voters.

Momentum gathering Labour

So policy lurches in political parties are nothing new as there are other examples across all the main political parties if you delve into their pasts. However, is what is happening within Labour of far greater significance? I ask as the process within the party under Momentum does seem to be much more far reaching. Not so much Labour gathering Momentum but Momentum gathering Labour.

But is there anything fundamentally wrong with Momentum, if they are the dominant creed within Labour these days (and we assume they are), demanding loyalty to their policy agenda before Labour candidates are selected/reselected to fight elections for the party? There seems to be a logic to that argument to me, although it does significantly change what Labour have often referred to as their ‘broad church’ where once they tolerated and even celebrated a membership with vastly differing views.