Monday, 17 January 2011

Is David Owen to join Labour?

I noticed in The Scotsman that Lord Owen, the former leader of the SDP, is reported as saying that he would consider rejoining the Labour Party.

Not that this matters in the bigger scheme of things, of course - Owen's political career was finished as soon as he refused to abide by the democratic decision of his party to fuse with the Liberals. But he remains a significant figure in British politics and his views are often sought by journalists and TV news correspondents.

I interviewed David Owen last January and discussed various elements of recent British political history. Interestingly, at the time we were both agreed that the General Election could provide an unprecedented opportunity for Nick Clegg, especially given that the TV debates offered equal status to all leaders. Clegg, said Owen, was a leader in the SDP mould, with strong internationalist inclinations and an understanding of markets. He said he hoped Clegg would do well and that he believed the Liberal Democrats were moving in the right direction. Owen was less complimentary towards Labour, admitting that he had in the recent past been asked to rejoin but that he could not possibly consider doing so.

So what has changed in a year? Well, quite a lot - but very little about the character of the Labour Party is different to what it was twelve months ago. Owen is now reported as saying "I'm old enough to remember Labour when it was, in my view, a genuine social democratic party and I think it has come back again to that."

David Owen always was a controversial figure and will be remembered as such. At his prime he was a popular figure, but could be a divisive influence and his actions in the lead-up to, and immediately following, the merger of the SDP and Liberal party even now provoke emotional reactions from his contemporaries. But there was more to him than that; Owen resigned on principle from the Labour Party to help found the SDP because he felt - almost certainly correctly - that Labour's social democratic tradition was being systematically eradicated in favour of pursuing a more left-leaning agenda. He was a man of conviction, not of sentiment.

He's also a deeply insightful person and his political analyses are usually quite compelling. This makes his suggestion that Labour is a "social democratic party" all the more odd - especially given that he refused to rejoin Labour early in the Blair era when Labour could be said to have been following a social democratic route.

As I posted yesterday, there are copious reasons why I would not join Labour. Quite simply, it is not a social democratic party. Of course, Labour has moved on from the days of Michael Foot and the Militant Tendency but so much of what Owen objected to so strongly back in 1981 - especially in regards Labour's democratic structures - remains. Perhaps Owen has identified Ed Miliband as a moderating force, but such an assessment would in my view be both premature and wildly inaccurate.

Owen has, in the past, been associated with all three of the main parties on various occasions - which probably says far more about the media's obsessions than it does about David Owen!

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Other reasons not to join Labour (and more interesting things to do instead):