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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Party's Over
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) only lasted in its original form for seven years during which time it failed to break the mould of two party politics in Britain. Yet it paved the way for New Labour to take office in 1997 and for the Liberal-Democrats to join the Coalition government in the wake of the 2010 General Election. It was one of the most exciting developments...
Published on 14 Sept. 2010 by Neutral

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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Building a better yesterday"
This was Ralf Dahrendof's (RIP) opinion of the SDP. Alexi Sayle was more pungent-"The SDP are the K-Tel of British politics,the same old s*** in a new package".
Crewe and King's book is far too uncritical of the SDP. For starters, they do not give nearly enough credit to this party for splitting the anti-Thatcher vote and so guaranteeing her victory in 1983 and 1987...
Published 14 months ago by Franz Bieberkopf


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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Party's Over, 14 Sept. 2010
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Sdp: The Birth, Life, and Death of the Social Democratic Party (Hardcover)
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) only lasted in its original form for seven years during which time it failed to break the mould of two party politics in Britain. Yet it paved the way for New Labour to take office in 1997 and for the Liberal-Democrats to join the Coalition government in the wake of the 2010 General Election. It was one of the most exciting developments in postwar British politics but one which was inherently bound to fail for reasons which should have been apparent from the launching of the SDP in 1983.

During the 1970s Labour Party policy was increasingly influenced by the Trotskyite entryist group - Militant Tendency - which infiltrated the Labour Party following the abolition of proscribed organisations which had kept Communists, Marxists and others from membership for over half a century. Militant had been instrumental in the deselection of Eddie Milne in Blyth and Dick Taverne in Lincoln both of whom fought against official Labour candidates and won. Militant was primarily responsible for a shift to the Left expressed in the 1983 Election Manifesto which Labour MP Gerald Kaufman famously called "the longest suicide note in history".

They progressed within the Labour Party thanks to political chancers such as Tony Benn. Originally known as Anthony Wedgewood Benn he had renounced his title of Lord Stansgate in order to be elected to the House of Commons. Dubbed by one Labour leader as, "the perpetual undergraduate", Benn reinvented himself on a regular basis, shortening his name to Tony Benn, removing details of his private education from Who's Who and making sure his views coincided with what the Labour Left wanted to hear. "Supporters and opponents alike could not make out whether his socialist convictions were genuine or whether he was a consummate hypocrite." One observer attributed the Labour Party's problems in the 1980s as 90% Benn and 10% Trotsky.

The Labour Left was in favour of introducing the mandatory reselection of Labour MPs, widening the constituency which elected the Party leader and giving the National Executive Committee sole responsibility for drafting the Party's election manifesto. The Left was in control of the NEC, rejecting attempts by Reg Underhill and the Right to expel Militant. When Dennis Healey lost the leadership election to Michael Foot, Benn challenged Healey for the post of Deputy leader under the new electoral college procedure. The adoption of the collegiate method of election was the last straw for some Labour MPs who, led by the "Gang of Four", (Williams, Jenkins, Rogers and Owen) issued the Limehouse Declaration setting out the policies of a new Social Democratic Party.

The SDP's weakness was evident from the outset. Its Parliamentary membership had been elected on the platform of other Parties (28 Labour, 1 Conservative). While claiming it was breaking the political mould the SDP's policies prior to the 1983 election provided insufficient evidence that they were. The party organisation was a shambles and, although many people not previously involved in politics joined, they did not understand the boring mechanics of politics. Its media image of claret and chips was not helped by the election of Roy Jenkins as party leader. Jenkins was widely disliked and his inability to pronounce the letter 'r' was the butt of many jokes, especially after he was chosen by the SDP to contest Warrington. One wit suggested he referred to the party's file so as to avoid the word "rank".

In addition, while the SDP formed an Alliance with the Liberals to fight the 1983 election, it was the Liberal leader, David Steel, who looked the part on television whereas Jenkins was wooden and ineffective. As soon as the election was over David Owen told Jenkins to resign or expect a leadership challenge. Personal animosities between the "Gang of Four" played a major part in undermining public confidence the SDPs leadership. Shirley Williams was popular but disorganised and indecisive. Owen was arrogant, Rogers lacked charisma and Jenkins was over the hill. In addition, the SDP's organisation was overburdened with regional and other committees costing time, money, reducing activism and achieving little. Finally, relations with the Liberals were always fractious. The failure of the Alliance at the 1987 election resulted in a round of recriminations with Owen widely blamed for trying to win the balance of power rather than concentrating campaigning on the divided Labour Party.

The SDP leadership was politically inept. By 1985 Militant was in retreat, expulsions were removing individuals from the Party and Kinnock's attack on the Militant led Liverpool Council showed how much the Party had changed. Benn's resounding defeat when he challenged Kinnock for the Party leadership in 1987 indicted the Left was in retreat. Had the dissenting Labour Party MPs bided their time they could have won the argument from within. They were wrong footed by David Steel's call for a merger in the immediate aftermath of a disappointing 1987 election campaign. The move to integration was unstoppable, although Owen tried to derail it by calling for a federation rather than a merger. SDP members opted for the latter leaving Owen leading the rump SDP. In 1990 Jack Holmes was seventh out of eight candidates at the Bootle by-election finishing almost 300 votes behind the Raving Monster Looney Party. Owen wound his party up, Holmes formed the SDP (UK) Party.

Crewe and King have produced a fine and comprehensive history of the SDP. When the book was written they appeared pessimistic about the future of the Liberal-Democrats. However,the impulse which led Williams and Jenkins into the SDP saw them endorsing Blair while not joining New Labour. The Liberal-Democrats grew in numbers and by 2010 are no longer a fringe party. They may not have broken the mould but they did help create a different shape. As a piece of stand alone political history this is a masterpiece and well worth five stars.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Building a better yesterday", 27 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Sdp: The Birth, Life, and Death of the Social Democratic Party (Hardcover)
This was Ralf Dahrendof's (RIP) opinion of the SDP. Alexi Sayle was more pungent-"The SDP are the K-Tel of British politics,the same old s*** in a new package".
Crewe and King's book is far too uncritical of the SDP. For starters, they do not give nearly enough credit to this party for splitting the anti-Thatcher vote and so guaranteeing her victory in 1983 and 1987. Also, they slag Labour for being weird extremists-what's wrong with nuclear disarmament or getting rid of US bases in Britain?
As for the Gang of Four-Shirley Williams reminded me more of a "Blue Peter" presenter rather than a politician,and David Owen was such an egomaniac loony that even the other members of the Four hated him.
Why so uncritical?Perhaps it's that Crewe and King are wannabe members of The Great And The Good,and being more forceful in their analysis would jepordise the gong or peerage. More likely is that they basically agreed with the SDP and would see criticism as betrayal.
You probably guessed that I hated the SDP from the minute they emerged and I had a good long gloat when Lord Sutch outpolled the SDP in a late 1980s by-election.
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