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. Historical footnote: the first three constituencies to declare that night were Guildford, Torbay and Cheltenham – all then safe Tory seats, all since represented by Lib Dem MPs:

Another four years, another disappointing general election result, and it was all over for the SDP. ITV’s Spitting Image captured, rather too accurately, the simmering tension of the ‘Two Davids’ leadership as the Alliance reincarnated itself as the Liberal Democrats:

* technically, the SDP does still live on, of course – indeed, according to its website, ‘the SDP is planning to revamp its operations in 2006/2007’.

** My Math = FAIL

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This entry was posted in YouTube.


  • Liberal Neil 1st Aug '09 - 9:19am

    28th surely!

    I remember seeing Shirley speak in 1985 when I was a sixthformer – absolutely fantastic she wasM

  • Harry Hayfield 1st Aug '09 - 11:22am

    The Social Democrats have a number of councillors including three in Aberavon in Neath and Port Talbot. Surely, you should have added the Bootle 1990 by-election result (when the Loonies outpolled the SDP)

  • It is fair to argue that the SDP was shattered prior to the 1983 general election. A few of the MPs who defected from Labour to the SDP opted to take their choice to the voters at a by-election and promptly got thumped. Those SDP candidates who got elected before 1988 learned their lessons from the old ALC campaign manuals. Recent Lib Dem activists will be unaware of the hostility in the so-called Alliance, but a minority of SDP activists expected votes on a plate owing to their virtuousness.

    We often forget that the SDP maintained the Liberal tradition of attracting individuals with ridiculous names. Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler MP should always be remembered.

  • When I was PPC in Hammersmith in 2005 I canvassed a household in Ravenscourt Park. I was greeted by a man who was the 1983 SDP candidate in Hammersmith. He told me that the Liberals stood against him, one of 3 seats apparently where this happened. Many SDPers did not join the merged party back in 1987, others drifted away from politics or went back to Labour, or even the Tories – quite a severe loss of talent overall.

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