Why you should join the Liberal Democrats’ Social Democrat Group

We can only imagine what, David Owen (83), infamously styled Dr Death by Dennis Skinner, made of the Social Democratic Party’s 2021 conference, from his lonely perch in the House of Lords where he sits as an independent social democrat, estranged from the other survivor of the gang of four, Bill Rogers (93) who is still a loyal member of the Liberal Democrats. The recent SDP plenary featured an address from Baroness Claire Fox, the only peer in history to include membership of the Revolutionary Communist Party and being a UKIP MEP on her curriculum vitae. Owen should perhaps be retitled Dr Frankenstein whose creation’s demise was widely desired.  Fortunately, despite the spectre of the surviving SDP, who Owen led into the wilderness in 1988, still haunting the periphery of politics, the social democratic tradition is alive and well inside the Liberal Democrats.

Determined to build on that tradition, the Social Democrat Group became a formal organisation within the Liberal Democrat Party in 2020, published a book, The Future of Social Democracy, in 2021 and passionately believe that the emblematic bird of freedom needs two wings; liberalism and social democracy to reach its former heights; and that the founding principle of one party two traditions is a vital to our future not a footnote in our past. Working closely with Dick Newby, The Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords and SDP CEO in their heyday, the Social Democrat Group are planning an innovative session on the future of global football at Spring Conference and an ambitious membership drive and post lockdown relaunch at the, hopefully face to face, Autumn Conference in 2022.

Michael Mullaney recently elected interim chair of the Social Democrat Group said,

We are the natural home for people who want to rejoin the European Union but reject the toxic attitude that Remain can engender towards our fellow citizens whom we need to persuade. We also support pluralism and work closely with Compass on the project of a progressive alliance for 2023, after which the breakup of the United Kingdom might mean that the opportunity for a non-tory government is lost for a long time.

As well as supporting fundamental electoral and constitutional reform, we are open to newer ideas including using artificial intelligence and a universal basic income to shape a more equal society. We are a small but ambitious group, but once we reach our initial target of 500 members, we want to start influencing policy by participating at conference, acting as an informal think tank, and supporting our brilliant MPs and Peers who lack the time and resources to research new ideas and develop them into popular policies.

The Social Democrat Group believe that the stakes have rarely been higher. Democracy is under threat in Russia, Hungary, The United States of America, and Brazil while the European Union faces an existential threat from the rising tide of populism. Just as the SPD in Germany opposed fascism and led the way in establishing peace through European unity, we must work with others to find an answer to nationalism in our time.

Many hoped that Brexit was the post war nadir; but the revolt on the right is not finished. Johnson has served his purpose. Sunak will return the conservatives to neo-liberal orthodoxy if he can stop the authoritarian Patel. Farage has found a new platform on GBTV and is talking to donors about a new party whose proposition will be anti- asylum and a referendum to stop net zero, based on climate change skepticism and the anti-elite political dynamics of 2016.

To make an impact the Social Democrat Group needs to grow. Any Liberal Democrat member is welcome to join the SDG for a minimum donation of £5 a year. The book, The Future of Social Democracy, which explores the themes in this article and suggests a definition of Social Democracy for future discussion, can be purchased for £10 including postage or for £5 for new members joining in person at Autumn Conference 2022. You can contact us via our Facebook page or by emailing socialdemocratgroupATgmailDOTcom.

* Tim Caswell is a writer, lawyer and homelessness activist who joined the Liberal Democrats in 2018 after 34 years in the Labour party. He is Vice-Chair of the Lib Dem Social Democrats Group

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  • Brad Barrows 4th Jan '22 - 5:25pm

    I was interested to read this article as I was your article of just over 3 years ago when you wrote an eloquent piece on liberalism for this website. What I think you have not outlined, either now or in your earlier article, is why you came to the realisation that socialism was neither the route to the type of society you were seeking, nor the template of what your ‘ideal’ society would look like. With 34 years in the Labour Party, it may be that your change in outlook occurred slowly over a considerable period of time. Alternatively you may have had a ‘Damascus’ type conversation that brought you to reject socialism. If you were willing to contribute a future article on why you came to reject socialism, I think it would be extremely interesting for us all to read and reflect upon, but could also be useful in developing our ability to campaign more effectlvely.

  • Under FPTP voting at least, it is necessary for parties to bridge more than a single political tradition to be able to gather sufficient concentrations of votes to be able to win many parliamentary constituencies. The LibDems most successful period was when they were clearly coming from the SDP and the Liberal Party.

  • Thanks for you kind comments Brad. I ceased to be a socialist in 1983 because of what Popper called historicism which is inherent in the subconscious and pseudo marxists DNA of socialist parties. After that I became a social Democrat. I left when Corbyn poisoned the party against that tradition and betrayed our european heritage and home.

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