The fact that the so-called Gang of Four (Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers, David Owen and Roy Jenkins) were leaving the Labour Party to set up their own centre-left organisation had been evident for months. In January 1981 they released the Limehouse Declaration, stating why in their view such a move was needed. On March 26 they announced at a packed press conference in the Connaught Rooms in London that their group would be called the Social Democratic Party.
It may be difficult to believe in a Britain disenchanted with a debased political system, but in 1981 this particular political news was received with enormous enthusiasm. It promised something new, a move away from dogma – the Labour Party then headed by unelectable idealist Michael Foot, the Conservatives controlled by their right wing; and the end of class tribalism. The SDP promised it would be a democratic party; that its politics would reflect what people actually wanted; and that it would provide a middle ground rather than see Britain swing unproductively from left to right.
Alas the mould remained unbroken; egos and the real world got in the way. Within a few years the SDP (or most of it) merged with the Liberals, and the two-and-a-bit party system remained.
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