LETTER : Where are the true offspring of the SDP? Not in New Labour

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The Independent Online
From Mr Ian Wright

Sir: It was a pity that Polly Toynbee didn't cast her net a little wider for her hymn of praise to Tony Blair ("We lost, but Son of SDP will win", 21 June). Had she looked outside London she might have noticed that large numbers of former SDP activists, still in politics, have not yet succumbed to Mr Blair. If Ms Toynbee had looked beyond the former SDP bigwigs she might have noticed, for instance, that the leaders of many of the largest local authorities in the country are former SDP councillors, now exercising real power with the Liberal Democrats.

Like Ms Toynbee, I joined the SDP from Labour in 1981. Like her I was a member of the SDP National Committee, a supporter of David Owen who stuck with the party after the merger row in 1987. I remained committed to building a constructive and deepening European union, to a social market economy and to root and branch reform of the constitution.

Somewhat to my surprise, given the hostility of the merger row, I found that for me the Liberal Democrats represent the SDP inheritance rather more comfortably than New Labour. It is only possible to talk about "the natural Labour homeland beckoning" if you are prepared to accept that the same homeland which has made Mr Blair such a commanding and attractive figure has also for years turned a blind eye to institutionalised municipal gangsters in Birmingham, Monklands and even the North-east.

No doubt a few of our former colleagues will make emotional - doubtless well timed and very well publicised - returns to Labour. They must do what is right for them. But neither they nor Ms Toynbee should seek to claim to speak for the whole inheritance of the SDP. It was that arrogance that got us into trouble in the first place. There is no natural home for former Social Democrats, we may each choose a different road. Polly Toynbee, like the rest of us, should be prepared to recognise and respect that individual choice.

Yours sincerely,




21 June

The author was a member of the SDP National Committee and SDP Vice President 1988-90.