Musically the eighties were a great period as the unsophisticated sonic assault of punk refined into the multi-faceted sound of post-punk. Politically they sucked. I hold the SDP responsible  – those 4 disgruntled ex-Labour ministers that divided the centre-left vote and kept the people’s party out of power for a generation. In 1981 they wanted to break the mould but 7 years later they had ignominiously ended up amalgamating with the Liberals after the realisation that the “Alliance” between the two was totally uneccessary seeing as they had identical policies. The fall-out was around for seemingly ever though and I reckon that we never really recovered until the 1994 Euro election and then the subsequent creation of New Labour that we were really rid of their festering stench.

Denis Healy once said of David Owen the SDP leader with the Mills and Boon-hero looks : “when he was born, the good fairy had given him everything – good looks, brilliant intelligence, luck. Unfortunately, the bad fairy made him a shit.” Being made Foreign Secretary at 35 meant that Owen was on a permanent ego-trip, refusing to accept the SDP’s eventual takeover by the Libs. He carried on leading a rump of 2 MPs widely hailed as groupies until Labour took all their seats in the 1992 General Election.

In the meantime old SDP skeletons are still continuing in their divisive ways. Current Liberal Democrat peer Dick Taverne helped push Ming over the edge with his sniping earlier in the week – demonstrating spoilsport Owen characteristics down to a tee. Taverene’s fluke by-election win in 1973 as early SDP proto-type was short-lived when he was beaten by a young Margaret Beckett in the following General Election.

No-one really remembers which side of the SDP/Lib divide the current crop came from. I cannot find any evidence of Clegg in pre LD times. Apparently Chris Huhne was SDP as were Ashdown and Kennedy. All three could have stayed within Labour to fight, fight and fight again – in the words of Hugh Gaitskell but jumped ship to take part in an experiment that only suceeded in damaging Labour and consigning them to impotentence electorally and intellectually for about 14 years too long. The word “wreckers” is meant for people like these.

As for others, they chose different directions. Owen’s once right hand man Danny Finkelstein is now the Newsnight resident Tory in their regular political panel via John Major’s Downing Street office.  Another SDP big name Roger Liddle did the more logical thing meanwhile came home to Labour and became a Blair adviser. As for the (3 remaining) original defectors, dubbed at the time the Gang of Four I am reminded of the top toe-tapping tune by their namesake Leeds four piece punk-funksters Gang of Four: “Damaged Goods“.

PS Also courtesy of YouTube here is Gang of Four track “To Hell with Poverty” from golden pop year 1981. At least in those days music wasn’t scared to stick its neck out and make statements.

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