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The future of Social Democracy – a book to mark 40 years since the Limehouse Declaration

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January 25th marks the 40th Anniversary of the Limehouse Declaration, when four former Labour Cabinet Ministers Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams met to issue a statement that would shortly afterwards lead to the formation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The SDP in alliance with the Liberal Party took 26% of the vote in the 1983 election and 23% of the vote in the 1987 election, two of our highest general election vote shares since the 1920s. The bulk of the SDP then merged with the Liberal Party in 1988 to go on to form the Liberal Democrat party we know today.

To mark this occasion the Social Democrat Group have arranged for the publication of a book of essays called The Future of Social Democracy.

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“It was a tough battle” – Shirley Williams on the birth of the SDP

Shirley Williams tells the story of the 1981 Gang of Four breakaway, which eventually led to the formation of the Liberal Democrats, in the first issue of AD LIB magazine, out next week.

“…we said, if we haven’t got anywhere else to go, we’ll create one.”

Those nascent views crystallised after the party’s 1981 Wembley conference which committed it to unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the EEC and NATO. Within hours Williams, Owen and Rodgers were drawing up the plans which would lead to the creation of the SDP.

“The three of us met – not Roy, at that point –

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YouTube ‘cos we want to: an SDP special

If the SDP had lived on*, 2009 would have marked its 18th** 28th birthday – which spurious segue is all the excuse we need to dust off three video clips tracing its rise and fall.

Let’s begin at the beginning, with the explosion of the ‘Gang of Four’ – Roy, David, Shirley and Bill – onto the scene, here holding their first press conference in March 1981:

For a year or more it really did seem as if the SDP might truly break the mould of British politics. But the party was shattered by the results of the June 1983 general election, winning only six seats. Here’s the start of the BBC’s election night results programme.

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