Sunday, June 6, 2010

Breaking the Mould?

I have just got back from the Hay Festival, which was an outing of stereotypical Guardian readers to a field in Wales. Good fun but rather depressing in some ways. Sadly I will be back at some point.

I will write about some of the sessions I attended at some point, especially when I've finished reading the books that go with them.

However I did sneak into the second hand bookshops and pick up a few books to add to my backlog of unread books.

One that jumped out at me cost the princely sum of £1.50 and is pictured right. It was written in 1981 and outlines from a broadly sympathetic (I think) position the reasons for the creation of the SDP and what might happen. Ian Bradley went on to different things than you might expect (and yes it is the same person!)

Overall the book reads easily and, at only 161pp, quickly. Ian Bradley is a lively writer. I think his sections on polls had all the health warnings, but the conclusions don't seem to include them. However his final conclusions are interesting:

If the SDP does well at the next election [1983], it will almost certainly help the party which it has broken away from [...]

To be fair to Ian Bradley he couldn't have foreseen the Falklands.

He seems more prescient in the next sentence:
The effect of it's arrival may well be to help the Liberals [...] It is not difficult to imagine after the next election a victorious alliance contingence of MPs which consists of only a handful of Social Democrats, perhaps just 3 or 4 of the exisiting MPs, and a substantial number -- perhaps fifty or more -- of Liberals.

The Liberals did remain the senior grouping in 1983 (17 against 6) and 1987 (17 against 5). But never matched poll levels. Predicting a level of 50 for the Liberal (Democrat) parliamentary party seems reasonable now, but would have been unheard of in the 1980s.

In chapter 2 he gives an overview of new parties. He says that they need 20-30 years to enter government, or vanish in about 5-10 years. The SDP may be unique in doing both: it took 16 years for New Labour to emerge as an arguably Social Democratic government (albeit a bureaucratic centralising one), or 29 years for the LibDems to enter the coalition, but the SDP as a real force vanished in the merger after only 6 years.

Well worth a read if you can find a copy. Which looks easy enough. I may track down a copy of his Strange Rebirth of Liberal England when I've read more of the backlog.

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