A Home for the Homeless: (Re-)Introducing the Social Democratic Party | Rory Johnston

A responsible centre-left programme to restore fairness and opportunity, to rebuild public services, and preserve private sector incentives, was there for the taking.

Sage words from the editorial board of the Financial Times following the release of the Labour Party manifesto – a document they claimed would “exponentially increase risks to the economy”. Whatever you believe the validity of this statement to be, British politics finds itself desperately bereft of a moderate and responsible centre-left vision; both economically and socially.

In an election that has been sullied by an ugliness arguably never seen before in British politics, the electorate, come Thursday evening, will have two discernible offers put in front of them by two parties who both possess the skill of providing a bleak outlook for the future, whilst also conducting themselves in a manner that is nothing short of repugnant.

On the one hand, we have a Conservative party that has been so blind to the effects of austerity and the fact that Britain now has more food banks than McDonalds and KFC’s combined. 4.1 million children live in relative poverty with a grand total of 14.3 million people in a similar state when accounting for the general population. Typified by the disdain shown by the current Home Secretary for refusing to accept that the Government could ever be held responsible for such levels of poverty, the Tories have swept their damning impact on British society under the carpet. 22% of the population in the world’s fifth largest economy living in poverty is frankly nothing short of scandalous.

One would be forgiven for therefore thinking that it would only be natural for any serious party of opposition to have the easiest route to Number 10 Downing Street.

Enter the fray, Comrade Corbyn.

When it comes to Jeremy Corbyn, it could almost be commended that a politician could blow such an opportunity to win the keys of power. An 18-month period of utter slack-jawed slovenliness in tackling the issue of anti-Semitism within the Labour party has only proven itself to be the mere tip of the iceberg for Corbyn’s undying dedication to sheer political incompetence. Not only has he masterminded his way to being one of Britain’s most unpopular politicians for half a century, it looks likely that come Thursday night, a large portion of Labour’s heartlands are going to turn blue. Losing seats that Labour have held for close to a century to a serial liar with an Etonian and Oxford education would previously seemed an impossible task for a Labour leader. And yet, it is one of Comrade Jezza’s most significant achievements.

In addition to this, the extent to which both parties have lied to the British public and feasted upon our divided society would mean that it would take a herculean attempt to document the horrors of both parties in just the last six weeks of campaigning. And as if this vicious campaigning wasn’t enough, Britons can look forward to the fact that whoever will form the next government, they will provide a manifesto that the respected Institute of Fiscal Studies has deemed to lack any credibility.

Britain simply deserves better.

The appetite for a new centrist party in British politics has garnered heartfelt sentiments for quite some time. Before the Liberal Democrats enjoyed their short-lived rise through the pollsm – peaking with their second place finish at this year’s European elections – 68% of the British public were in agreement that none of the major parties represented them. Then in February of this year, emerged Change UK. Before realising themselves as either Liberal Democrats careerists or suckers to Anna Soubry’s personal vanity project, these group of disenfranchised Labour and Tory MPs drew comparisons across the national press to a phenomenon that hadn’t been considered since 1980s. For politicos and journalists alike, Change UK was the SDP 2.0.

But here’s the deal; this wasn’t the SDP 2.0. The Social Democratic Party never went away.

Founded by the “Gang of Four” Labour moderates in 1981 with the Limehouse Declaration, the SDP promised a more moderate alternative to the radical politics of the Militant tendency they believed to be infiltrating the Labour party. Despite the Hollywood charisma of Lord Owen and reaching 50% in the national polls in 1981, the SDP ultimately failed to take a serious hold of British politics and by 1988, had merged with their Liberal allies to form the Liberal Democrats.

Since 1990, the SDP had remained an irrelevant and spent force in British politics; resigned to the history books. However, over the past couple of years and buoyed by political dissatisfaction in Britain, the enduring SDP are making a quiet resurgence. In the last 12 months, the SDP have steadily built upon their grassroots campaigning and increased membership by ten fold, now securely in the thousands.

Although they may be seen as small fry right now – and with only 20 candidates at this general election that may be true – there is a real credibility to what the SDP are working towards. Reinvigorated by their New Declaration in 2018, the SDP have placed themselves as a party of centre-left economics but of centre-right, communitarian social politics, with the new party constitution serving as a billet doux to Britain’s silent majority.

Championing the social market, in which the private and public sector are seen as thriving side by side, is a stark departure from the propositions offered during this election by Labour and the Tories. Never a truer word has been spoken as when leader of the SDP and candidate for Leeds Central, William Clouston, observed that “Labour want a larger state than the market can afford and the Tories always go for a smaller state than the public need”. Combatting the cyclical nature of Tory austerity that follows Labour overspending through the social market policy not only has it’s practical implications, but caters to many of the desires of the British public too.

Recognising that the free market is the best and most efficient way of providing goods and services, the SDP place a concerted effort on restricting the stretches of avaricious capitalism from having a detrimental effect on the nation state. Creating a symbiotic relationship between private and public sectors has been totally negated by both the major parties, and yet, under the SDP, private enterprise would be allowed to create wealth, yet funding keystone policies such as renationalising the railways – a policy that 64% of the British population support, amongst many other social policies offered by the SDP.

Furthermore, in William Clouston, the SDP have found themselves a leader that is dearly missing from British politics. In a time when Johnson, Corbyn and Swinson all enjoy terribly negative approval ratings, the gentle giant Clouston provides a shining light for the party. Clouston is far more compassionate than could ever be said of Johnson; more considered in his approach than the choleric Corbyn and in far better touch with the British electorate than Swinson could ever hope to be.

Nonetheless, in this upcoming election, the SDP have an uphill mountain to climb. Fielding their largest cohort of candidates since the 1980s, it is unlikely that any of their 20 candidates are successful this election. However, as Britain progresses past Brexit, the 2020s present itself as the decade for real growth for the SDP. As Labour heartlands reject Corbyn’s hard-left politics and weak stance over Brexit, it is unlikely that the economic liberalism of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives will capture the hearts of traditional working-class areas for too long. The political theorist Matthew Goodwin often alludes to the popularity of Corbynomics, with the return of utilities to public hands often proving the most popular element of Corbyn’s vision. It is very conceivable that the votes and popularity the Tories enjoy in Labour heartlands on Thursday will be ephemeral, unless they can prove that they are indeed a party for transforming the lives of those most deprived in society.

9 years of form would suggest this will not be the case.

As Labour voters look for new political homes, joining the other 68% of the British population who feel politically homeless, it will be worth keeping a keen eye on the progression of the SDP. At last, there’s a home for the homeless.

On Wednesday, you can catch the first episode of the Mallard’s new podcast, The Overton Window, which will be featuring SDP leader William Clouston as our inaugural guest.

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