Tag Archives: social democrat group

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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Why social democrats are more left wing than the hard left

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Tories sneer when they use the term “left wing”. They point to the terrible failures of authoritarian states like North Korea. But if left wing is about poverty reduction, why do we let them call North Korea left wing?

In contrast to its northern neighbour, South Korea has had extraordinary success in reducing poverty, whereas “leftwing” oil-rich Venezuela has been a catastrophe.

If some states that call themselves “leftwing” aren’t, the same is true of political activists.

In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn proposed a radical manifesto. But the IFS and the Resolution Foundation found that Corbyn’s manifesto failed to reverse many cuts to the poorest, in dramatic contrast to the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

Poverty reduction is hard. Many well-meaning projects in international development have failed. They needed the warning of dissenting voices. The same is true in the UK, but when anyone pointed out the failings of Corbyn’s manifesto on social media, the red mists of anger descended on the hard left.

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Social justice in a time of deficits

Liberal Democrats, and social democrats in the Labour party, share two key priorities. We want to improve social justice, and, to fund that work, we need to strengthen the economy.

We’ve often argued about the best way to do this, both within our parties and between them. But the decisions of the 2010-2015 parliament are behind us, and we need to look forward.

Unfortunately, deficits aren’t in the past. Since 2010, the deficit, when adjusted for the economic cycle, has fallen by about 40%. But it’s still around £65 billion a year. And the existing deficit is only one of our challenges.

Each year, the age profile of the UK gets older. As it does, the pressure on the NHS and other services increases, and the pressure on the government budget grows.

This will probably be made worse by Brexit.

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We already have the Social Liberal Forum, so why do we need a Social Democrat group?

The Social Democrat Group has been formed to work with social democrats outside the party, to build links with them, and encourage some to join the Liberal Democrats.

As I handed out leaflets to promote our fringe meeting in York (see here for a recording) , I was asked why we needed another group when we already had the Social Liberal Forum (SLF). A year ago, I’d have agreed a new group wasn’t needed but the situation has changed.

When the party merged in 1988, there was a lot of controversy about the party’s name. It was vital the party move on from that debate, so many former members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) agreed that the short name become the Liberal Democrats. I feared this might mean we would eventually be called Liberals, and the SDP heritage forgotten, but I believed it was necessary.

Sure enough, increasingly, we have been called Liberals. I haven’t liked it, but when there were so many other serious issues to grapple with, it didn’t seem a fight worth having.

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