Owen claims he invented New Labour

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Indy Politics

Forget Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson and Philip Gould. Lord Owen, the SDP founder, has claimed the real architect of New Labour was none other than... himself.

Forget Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson and Philip Gould. Lord Owen, the SDP founder, has claimed the real architect of New Labour was none other than... himself.

In an interview to be published today, the former foreign secretary says he came up with the name and considered using it for his breakaway party in the early 1980s.

With what some will see as breathtaking chutzpah, Lord Owen points out that New Labour has his full backing largely because it has adopted many of the SDP's policies and principles. "How could I be against New Labour, because after all, it's what the SDP came into existence to create. And in fact the SDP in 1981 actually looked at 'New Labour' as a possible title," he told the website YouGov.com.

"It's pretty obvious that there are very substantial chunks of SDP policy. In fact there's hardly an innovative policy New Labour espouses that wasn't advocated by the SDP between 1981 and 1990."

Lord Owen was one of the Gang of Four, along with Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers, who left the Labour Party to found the Social Democratic Party in 1981. The split, triggered by Labour's left-wing policies, left many Labour MPs bitter at what they saw as a historic betrayal.

Lord Owen, who has come tantalisingly close to saying he would rejoin Labour under Tony Blair, refused to join the Liberal Democrats after the demise of the SDP/Liberal alliance in 1987. Eric Heffer and other left-wingers once attacked modernised Labour as "SDP Mark II", but until now not even Lord Owen has been so explicit in his comparisons.

"Once its reforms were seen in a substantive and serious way, taking into account public opinion and the realities of life in 1995, it was bound to win the last election," he said.

Last night Labour was caustic about Lord Owen's comments. "All we remember is that the SDP's death knell was signalled by its defeat by the Monster Raving Loony Party at the Bootle by-election in 1990," said a spokesman.

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