David Owen is elected leader of the SDP

Following the disappointment of the 1983 election, Owen made it clear that he would challenge the then leader Roy Jenkins, prompting Jenkins to resign. With Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers both out of Parliament, Owen was the only credible candidate and he was elected unopposed. Owen brought style and professionalism to the leadership but his ‘tough and tender’ social market approach led to tensions with his predecessor. His relationship with David Steel and the Liberals was also difficult, culminating in a major row over defence policy. The public saw Owen as the dominant figure in the Alliance, typified by the Spitting Image puppets with Steel residing in the top pocket of Owen’s suit. Steel had the last laugh after the 1987 election with a rapid call for merger which precipitated Owen’s resignation as SDP leader.