Tuesday, 27 November 2018

SDP gain from UKIP

Here's something I didn't see coming!

UKIP MEP for the East of England region, Patrick O'Flynn, has defected to the Social Democratic Party.

Or perhaps I should rephrase that. He's actually defected to the continuing continuing SDP, as the parties of that name formed by the Gang of Four (1981) and Dr David Owen (1988) have both ceased to exist.

Mr O'Flynn is an interesting figure. I've always thought him to be inherently capable, and for all my disagreements on policy I found him to be honest and very much his own person. He famously struggled with Nigel Farage, favoured a more centrist economic policy than most of his UKIP colleagues, and has clearly struggled with the direction UKIP has been moving in recent years. He's obviously not much of a fan of current leader Gerard Batten either, and the recent appointment of Tommy Robinson as a party advisor appears to have been the straw that finally broke the camel's back.

I wouldn't suggest O'Flynn is a moderate progressive - after all, he backed Lisa Duffy's bid to become UKIP leader - but it's not a great surprise that he's broken ranks with UKIP. What is surprising is that he's joined the SDP (sorry, continuing continuing SDP).

It seems rather odd that someone of O'Flynn's political views can describe themselves as a social democrat. I, too, consider myself a social democrat and yet we are poles apart in our political thinking. The SDP is a curious incarnation, and while I like the idea of the party continuing to exist in some guise it is a relic of a previous era, it is difficult to see the SDP making a resurgence. Although the defection will no doubt bring them once again into public awareness, can it reinvent itself? If the "old" SDP failed to break the mould of British politics, the current incarnation is struggling for relevance.

Can O'Flynn breathe new life into this party? Or will this defection simply become an obscure but fascinating historical footnote? Either way, he deserves some credit for the stance he has taken over the Tommy Robinson issue.

But perhaps today's SDP is symptomatic of modern Britain - the once-positive international outlook now replaced with by nativist tendencies and suspicion of "establishment". How did a party tracing its heritage back to Roy Jenkins, Bill Rodgers, David Owen and Shirley Williams find itself becoming the party of Patrick O'Flynn?

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