In 1981 the Gang of Four launched a new UK liberal party to ‘heal divisions’…

Will we soon see big MP defections from the LibDems to Labour, in time to prevent wholesale destruction of the UK’s public services?

Just about thirty years ago on 26 March 1981 the so-called Gang of Four launched a new British political party, the Social Democrats, expressly to ‘reconcile the nation’ and ‘heal divisions between classes’.

This ‘Gang’ in fact comprised previously senior Labour politicians – Roy Jenkins, David Owen, William Rodgers and Shirley Williams – who moved somewhat to the right.   In the Limehouse Declaration, made from David Owen’s London home on 25 January that year (1981), they had demanded reform of the political system, environmentally friendly policies, equality of opportunity for women and ethnic minorities, and a fairer distribution of wealth.

That Autumn they joined with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal-SDP Alliance, confident that together they would offer Britain a new start ~  ‘We are going to be free: we will make decisions… But they will be your decisions,’ David Owen told potential members.

But by 1990 the Social Democrats were no more.  Increasing support for Labour, plus Liberal-SDP political and personal differences, had put an end to the high hopes and dramatic rhetoric of the founding members.  The LibDems, as they then became, were left to get on with it.

And now?

Today we have seen the pretence of the Tories’ Big Society finally shattered.  The Big Society guru Nat Wei protests the concept remains central to Conservative thinking, but many doubt it, as Wei reduces his time commitment.  And out in the real world Liverpool City Council and their guide / collaborator Phil Redmond both withdraw from a Big Society pilot scheme on the eminently sensible grounds that there is no substantive government support to make it happen.

Add to this the general political turmoil of the past week or two, and one does begin to wonder how the ConDem Coalition can continue as it is.

Maybe before long there will again be people crossing the floor in Westminster.  There is still an honourable way forward for LibDem MPs genuinely concerned about what’s happening in their name.  Indeed, some LibDem Councillors have already taken this route.

This time we will see former Liberal Democrats hoping to save the principles of the Welfare State by defecting left-wards, to represent their constituents – who most surely did not expect the programme now promulgated by the ConDems – under the banner of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

I just hope the transitions occur before it’s all too late.

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