In 1981 the alliance between the Liberal Party and the newly founded SDP was agreed; the two parties would fight elections together on a joint platform with join candidates. Between 1983 and 1987, however, the working relationship between the Liberal leader, David Steel, and his SDP counterpart, Dr David Owen, became increasingly marked by tension and distrust. Steel became steadily more frustrated at Owen’s resistance to joint selection of candidates, and any convergence on policy proposals. The Liberal Party and the SDP clashed over some issues, most notably nuclear weapons. In particular, Owen strongly opposed any long-term moves to merge the two parties.
The clash became painfully obvious during the 1987 general election campaign, when Steel ruled out supporting a minority Thatcher government while Owen was adamant that Labour was unfit to govern. The results of the election were disappointing for both parties. The leadership tensions ultimately wrecked the Alliance.
Discuss what went wrong with Sir Graham Watson (Steel’s former Head of Office) and Roger Carroll (former SDP Communications Director). Chair: Christine Jardine MP.
This is a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference; you must be registered for the conference to be able to participate (you can register here). You do not need to register separately for the meeting.
The 1979 general election inaugurated the premiership of Margaret Thatcher and an eighteen-year period of Conservative government. It took place after the ‘winter of discontent’, marked by public sector strikes which destroyed the Labour government’s social contract. The results signalled the end of the post-World War II political consensus, based on an enhanced role for the state in economic management, strong trade unions, a broad welfare state and the pursuit of full employment.
The election came at the end of a decade that had seen numerous political upheavals, including two hung parliaments and record levels of support for the Liberal Party. But the Liberals’ share of the vote fell sharply in 1979, and two-party politics seemed to be back.
Join Lord David Steel, Professor Sir John Curtice (University of Strathclyde) and Baroness Shirley Williams to discuss the 1979 general election and its significance.
The meeting will start at 7.00pm, after the Liberal Democrat History Group’s AGM at 6.30pm.
On 25 January 1981, four former Labour cabinet ministers – Roy Jenkins, David Owen, William Rodgers and Shirley Williams – published the Limehouse Declaration, publicly signalling their intention to quit the leftward path that the Labour Party had taken. The Declaration advocated a classless society and called for the realignment of British politics. After an overwhelming public response, the SDP came into being two months later.
Twenty years on, the Liberal Democrat History Group looked at the origins and importance of the Limehouse Declaration. Did it signal the end of both Old Labour and Liberal Party irrelevance? Or did it back the progressive forces in British politics into a cul-de-sac?
Was the SDP a mistake? Or was the party essential for both the reform of Labour and a rebirth of Liberalism?
Winning local elections has been a keystone in Liberal (Democrat) success in the years since the adoption of the community politics strategy at the Eastbourne Assembly in 1970. There have been many spectacular advances across London, from the heartland of the south western boroughs to Southwark, Islington and more recently breakthroughs on Camden and Brent to share power there. But there are still black holes – ten London boroughs with no Lib Dem representation; and places like Harrow and Tower Hamlets where we controlled the council only to see a near wipe out follow.
In a meeting supported by the Lib Dem group on London Councils, the umbrella organisation representing all 32 London boroughs, the City of London, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, the History Group will look at the performance of Liberals in London local government since the 1970s with our speakers being two key players from the party. Cllr Stephen Knight of London Councils will chair the meeting and our speakers will be Cllr Sir David Williams, first elected for Ham and Petersham Ward in 1974 and a former leader of Richmond Council and London Assembly member Mike Tuffrey, who was also GLC/ILEA member for Vauxhall in the 1980s.
Twenty years ago a new political party was born from the merger of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties the Social & Liberal Democrats (or Salads, as the party was disparagingly nicknamed by its opponents).
This meeting will explore the political background to the merger and the byzantine process of negotiation through which it which it came about. Did it really deserve the description of merger most foul?
Speakers: Lord Clement-Jones, member of the Liberal merger negotiating team; Lord Goodhart, member of the SDP merger negotiating team; and Professor David Dutton, Liverpool University.
From March 1977 to October 1978, the Liberal Party kept Jim Callaghan’s Labour government in power through the Lib-Lab Pact. Labour ministers consulted systematically with Liberal spokespeople across a wide range of policy areas.
Arguably, the Pact restored a degree of political and economic stability to the country, but its achievements from a Liberal point of view were highly limited and it did not appear to be popular with the country at large.
Yet, in the longer term, the Pact can be seen to have paved the way for the concept of different political parties working together which led in the following decade to the LiberalSDP Alliance and may ultimately lead to coalition government at Westminster.
Twenty years on from the Pact, key participants from both sides discuss its history and impact.
Speakers: David Steel (Leader of the Liberal Party 1976-88); Tom McNally (Head of the Prime Ministers Political Office 1976-79); Michael Steed (President of the Liberal Party 1978-79, and academic psephologist). Chair: Geoff Tordoff (Chairman of the Liberal Party 1976-79).