THEY’RE ALL GOING ON A SUMMER HOLIDAY

It may not be a long hot summer ahead of us – give or take the odd ‘phew, what a scorcher’ day – but it promises to be one in which our nation’s elected representatives plan and plot their enticing battle strategies for the autumn. As Westminster covers its furniture for a couple of months, MPs return to their constituencies and prepare not so much for government as for the next stage of the war. Being an observer and writer on events of this nature, I find these are invigorating times to be doing so. In the last three years, we’ve had two referendums (one regional, one national) and two General Elections; and none appear to have resolved any of the issues that prompted them in the first place. We seem to be in a permanent, if fascinating, state of flux.

I was talking to a friend the other day on how cinema and television mirror the political uncertainties of the day in their output; current offerings from ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ to ‘The Walking Dead’ and even the revived ‘Planet of the Apes’ series seem to me to reflect the mistrust and diminishing faith in the institutions that govern western society, a factor that has gathered pace post-9/11 and in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. Interestingly, the last time this trend was so prominent was back in the 70s – with everything from ‘Survivors’ and ‘The Changes’ on the small screen to ‘Network’, ‘The Omega Man’, ‘Logan’s Run’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ on the big screen, dystopian portrayals of the near-future that characterised the contemporary concerns of the era that produced them.

Go back to the 50s – supposedly a far more stable era – yet we have the likes of ‘Invasion of the Body-Snatchers’ acting as a metaphor for McCarthyism, ‘Quatermass’ satirising the pre-war establishment’s flirtations with fascism as the British ruling class is infiltrated by aliens, and the post-Hiroshima fear of what the Atom Bomb left in its wake manifested as mutant creatures in ‘Tarantula’ or the Godzilla movies. After a rare bout of international optimism in the 90s – following celebrated events such as the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid that followed it – the shift in mood that for those on the left has been exacerbated by Brexit or the election of Trump has resulted in a return to the apocalyptic narrative in fiction.

How this relates to the current state of play in Blighty is easier to describe in escapist terms via the fresh upsurge in fantasy trash such as ‘Love Island’ or the ongoing and increasingly desperate talent show franchise acting as television ostriches with heads firmly buried in the sand. When the TV news is so relentless in its assault on the lingering shreds of naive belief that things can only get better, however, it’s no wonder the populace turns to the modern-day equivalent of the dance marathons of the Great Depression for superficial consolation or even the comforting embrace of Regency England in the likes of ‘Poldark’.

In a way, it’s no great surprise that this has happened when the public look to their leaders for guidance and see people at the top who appear to have such a slender grip on power that it could slip away at any given moment. When one considers we have a minority Government led by a Prime Minister so in denial of her own shortcomings and eager to enter into deals with anyone that can provide her administration with the illusion of strength and stability, whether Trump, the DUP or Saudi Arabia, it doesn’t inspire much in the way of confidence. Theresa May now takes time out from what must have been a personally devastating couple of months for her to calculate how she can survive until the end of the Brexit negotiations two years hence. She’ll dust herself down for the party conference season in September, but she knows the knives are out within her own Cabinet and she’s very much living on borrowed time. Who would envy her?

A year ago, it was Jeremy Corbyn who was facing assaults from his own side, yet Jezza has emerged from the wreckage of the General Election with his position undoubtedly strengthened and his Labour opponents weakened. His remarkable winning over of the general public from such a lowly starting point has both shown the irrelevance of Fleet Street in dictating opinion and how people respond positively to the relative novelty of a politician who seems to have genuine beliefs that aren’t necessarily dependent on the shifting sands of the consensus. His response to recent terrorist events and Grenfell have captured the public mood far more effectively than May’s awkward and stilted reaction, something that won’t do him any harm come the next visit to the polling station, whenever that may be.

The euphoric mood of the Corbyn wing of the Labour Party right now couldn’t contrast greater with the shambolic infighting of the Tories, and it certainly feels that electioneering for them didn’t end on June 8. Few would argue that should the realistic possibility of another General Election at any time over the next few months come to pass, Labour appear more likely to win it than the Conservatives; and the Conservatives are all-too aware of this, which is why they’re putting the inevitable leadership contest on hold for the time being. It doesn’t say much for their prospects that the attitude they’ve adopted seems to be ‘any Prime Minister is better than no Prime Minister’.

The reduced ambition of the Lib Dems, despite moderately increasing their Parliamentary head-count after the wipe-out of 2015, has been reflected in the unopposed election of Vince Cable as leader; this backwards step is reminiscent of when the Tories had Michael Howard in the hot-seat after William Hague’s retirement in 2001, almost an admission of irrelevance. Pursuing an anti-Brexit policy that includes a desire for another EU Referendum might win them a few fans amongst diehard Remainers, but the wider electorate have already accepted Brexit and just want it to be over and done with as quickly as possible.

So, the recess is with us and the respective parties are taking a break from daily duties in the Commons; but as Mrs May heads off for a hike in the Welsh mountains and Mr Corbyn retreats to his allotment, I doubt either will view the summer as a holiday. Both have challenges ahead of them that negate putting their feet up, and the business of either running the country or preparing to run it won’t pause just because there are sandcastles waiting to be built.

© The Editor

THE CABLE GUY

The ungracious and shameful manner in which Charles Kennedy’s alcoholism was handled by his party – the same party, lest we forget, for which he had grabbed the largest number of seats since its previous incarnation eighty years previously – was a sober lesson in Westminster morals at their most ruthless. Stabbed in the back by colleagues with unrealisable ambitions to better what Kennedy had achieved, he was replaced by Sir Menzies (AKA ‘Ming the Merciless’) Campbell, whose leadership was such a roaring success it lasted barely a year. And then came Clegg. Alas, poor Nick, we knew him well. Gordon Brown agreed with him, and so did David Cameron.

It was only when the Con-Dem Coalition was ripped apart by cynically effective Tory electioneering in 2015 that the shackles the Lib Dems placed on the most damaging Conservative policies became apparent; not that the electorate recognised this, taking out their frustrations with austerity politics on the junior partners and decimating their numbers, forcing Nick Clegg to fall on his leadership sword as a consequence. A party reduced to single figures had little in the way of choice when it came to a successor and in stepped Tim Farron. Yes, Tim Farron; remember him?

Tim Farron was the fish finger party leader whose General Election campaign barely a month ago was dogged by persistent questions over his faith and its official position on gay sex (presumably not a missionary one). When he quit a couple of weeks ago, Farron cited his God-bothering as one of the main reasons for resigning; he apparently regarded it as an impossibility to lead his party and ‘live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching’. Why run in the first place then, vicar?

Yes, some of the grillings he received on account of his religious beliefs were unfair; as I said at the time, would he have been similarly pursued on this one question had he been a Muslim MP rather than a Christian one? But Farron had presented the media with such an open goal that it merely highlighted his evident unsuitability for leading a political party; in recent years, his efforts at leadership have only been matched by some of the clowns in the UKIP hot-seat.

Why on earth Farron chose to compete in the last General Election campaign when he’d obviously decided to quit at the soonest available moment says everything about the diminished aspirations of the Lib Dems. That his resignation was announced on a day when the country was still coming to terms with the Grenfell Tower disaster underlines the unfortunate and inopportune timing where his party is concerned of late. Not to worry, though; the Lib Dems have their very own Jezza! Yes, Old Mother Cable is back, and it looks as if the man who sold the Royal Mail down the river during his stint as Coalition Business Secretary is poised to step into the breach as saviour!

The 74-year-old Westminster veteran was missing in action for two years, but returned to Parliament three weeks ago and now stands to lead his party out of the wilderness. Even with an improved showing at this year’s General Election, the Lib Dems still have a paucity of talent to draw upon when it comes to leadership, and another Lib Dem who has returned to Parliament after two years’ absence, Ed Davey, has ruled himself out of standing by citing the tried and trusted ‘I want to spend more time with my family’ excuse; why become an MP again if that’s such a prominent concern? Other potential contenders – Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson (another returnee) – have also pulled out, which leaves Cable with a virtually unchallenged path to the crown of thorns that is being Lib Dem leader.

Sir Vince has already stated his intention to push for a second EU Referendum, which may win him a few votes with Remainers in permanent denial, though I suspect the rest of the country will see it as precisely what it is – a desperate clutch at desperate straws by a desperate party. It’s not as though the Lib Dems have anything else to clutch at now, yet their approach to the Brexit conundrum didn’t exactly set the electorate alight during the General Election, anyway; they only won 12 seats, after all. And the fact they’re poised to place their future in the hands of a man who someone once compared to Mr Barrowclough from ‘Porridge’ just about sums up their utter irrelevance to the changed political landscape of 2017.


28 YEARS LATER

The news that six people – three of them former coppers – will be charged with offences relating to the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989 flies in the face of the usual routine where ex-police officers have bent the rules to cover their own backs. Early retirement is the standard reward as the offenders are pensioned off and stick to their stories. Yes, it may be a belated announcement that the Crown Prosecution Service have charged six involved on the day, but it’s about bloody time. One of the six is Sir Norman Bettison, a Chief Inspector with the South Yorkshire Police in 1989, and a man who competed with Kelvin McKenzie to propagate the most despicable myths re the behaviour of the fans that day. He is being charged with four offences of misconduct in public office.

Another senior officer at the time, David Duckenfield, is a former Chief Superintendent who was match commander on the fatal day in question; he was the man who gave the order for the exit gate to be opened and therefore allowed the rush of Liverpool fans into the central pens of the terraces behind the goals that provoked the crush that resulted in 95 deaths; he is being charged with manslaughter by gross negligence.

As happened at Orgreave during the Miners’ Strike five years earlier, South Yorkshire Police looked after their own at the expense of those who suffered as a consequence of their actions at Hillsborough; it is only due to the remarkable resilience and tenacity of the bereaved families that today’s announcement by the CPS has come to pass. Showing the same dogged determination as those who hunted down Nazi War Criminals in the 50s and 60s, their tireless efforts not only led to the Operation Resolve investigation, but they may now finally see someone held accountable in a court of law. This is long overdue, and we can only hope justice will eventually be done. If elderly ‘sex offenders’ can be pursued by the police for offences committed half-a-century ago, why can’t elderly policemen be pursued likewise?

© The Editor

SIT ON MY FAITH

Tim Farron or a fish finger? According to various online polls, most reckon the latter would make a more effective leader of the Liberal Democrats. Okay, so it’s one of those Twitter campaigns that serve as a silly distraction from doom ‘n’ gloom, and to give Farron credit he has entered into the spirit of the joke rather than pretending he knows nothing about it. Anyway, a fish finger couldn’t have been elected Lib Dem leader after the last General Election on account of just eight remaining MPs to choose from (with Nick Clegg excluded from the list), none of whom owed their existence to Captain Birdseye.

Farron was a regular on ‘Question Time’ prior to his leadership elevation, so was a relatively familiar face; but the dearth of names to select as Clegg’s successor meant it was inevitable whoever got the gig was destined to have their election downgraded. In some respects, Farron has made a shrewd move in allying himself and his party with the anti-Brexit brigade; after being blamed for the worst crimes of the Coalition, the Lib Dems needed a new focus and seized upon the Referendum result as a cause. It could well have won them recruits too young to recall their U-turn on tuition fees as well as disillusioned Remainers, and with Labour’s stance on the subject still somewhat murky, Farron has promoted the Lib Dems as a party whose position on the issue that will undoubtedly dominate this General Election is crystal clear.

Not that Brexit is the issue Tim Farron has been quizzed on much so far when cornered by interviewers. They want to know if he thinks gay sex is a sin. He’s a Christian, you see, so surely an act of passion between two chaps must offend his faith, no? I wonder if anyone has dared to put the same question to, say, Sadiq Khan. The Mayor of London is a Muslim, after all, and the Koran apparently isn’t mad keen on that sort of intimacy. Mind you, is any religious manual penned thousands of years ago mad keen on it? The core values of any religion seem similar on paper, but the ambiguity of the text in all of them can be open to interpretation and seized upon by both advocates and opponents as to why living one’s life by its doctrines is either a good or bad idea.

There can be ‘selective faith’, of course, which essentially means a pick ‘n’ mix of all the bits in one’s chosen Holy Book which appeal and conveniently disregarding the bits you don’t like. I suppose it makes sense to a degree if you’re determined to follow a faith and the archaic nature of some of its specifications makes them no longer relevant. Islamic Fundamentalists tend to do this the wrong way round by focusing on all the bits most would regard as utterly irrelevant to the world after around the eighteenth century Enlightenment. Similarly, Christian Fundamentalists in the American Bible Belt have a habit of honing in on all those bits as well. But that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone who is a Muslim or a Christian follows suit.

Our Glorious Leader herself is, as we all know, the daughter of a vicar and she remains a practising Christian; will the gay sex question be put to her during the campaign? Robert Peston hinted as much when appearing on this week’s ‘Have I Got News for You’, so we shall see. That Farron has been singled out more than other prominent God-botherers for his views on personal morality seems strange; his voting record on equality legislation is largely commendable, more so than many of his fellow Parliamentarians who have been spared the kind of grilling Farron has received of late. Then again, I suppose the media needs an angle, and today’s media-savvy politicians should at least anticipate it.

Thankfully, none in 2017 (bar perhaps the worst fruitcake in the UKIP bakery) would come out with a comment akin to the one uttered by the late Tory buffoon Sir Gerald Nabarro on ‘Any Questions’ way back in 1963 – ‘How would you feel if your daughter wanted to marry a big buck nigger with the prospect of coffee-coloured grandchildren?’ Even at the time, the comment was deemed unpleasant enough to be edited out of the programme’s repeat broadcast a few days later, though it didn’t damage Nabarro’s career thereafter as it would totally destroy it today.

However, the voluntary imposition of a morality consensus upon all public figures isn’t necessarily a hallmark of progress in that some may well say one thing in public and another in private. I’ve no idea if Tim Farron regards gay sex as abhorrent when he ponders on the topic behind closed doors or if he wrestles with his Christian conscience over the issue; but the likelihood that some have both a public and a private opinion on such a subject is, I would imagine, fairly high. In a way, I would rather honesty came into it a little more, though the awareness of how the wrong kind of honesty can wreck a career today no doubt limits a public figure’s ability to express it.

Actually, an out-and-out proud bigot or racist is more honest than someone who masks their prejudices in the mores of the moment – the kind of PC preacher who ticks all the right minority boxes until their daughter engages in the scenario clumsily referred to by Sir Gerald Nabarro over fifty years ago. The dishonesty of those who don’t necessarily practice in private what they preach in public is worse. The reluctance to question and condemn certain cultural differences – FGM being an extreme example and one with an appalling lack of criminal convictions for its practitioners – isn’t helping anyone, let alone the concept of a harmonious society that lives by certain shared values.

For all the rights and wrongs of the Raj, the British in India did at least outlaw traditions like widows being burned alive on their dead husband’s funeral pyres; and to avoid ‘sensitive issues’ today because they’re exclusive to minorities whilst simultaneously thinking it okay to constantly challenge Tim Farron on one topic because he’s a white heterosexual Brit following what David Cameron reminded us was ‘the national faith’ stinks of double standards.

© The Editor

SEPTEMBER SONG

PMThank God that’s out of the way – summer, I mean; mind you, it’s not as neat and concise as that; these seasons have a habit of overlapping. It may be September 1, but England are playing Pakistan at Headingley, and the schools won’t reopen for business until next week. The party conference season will serve as a prologue to Parliament’s resumption, and that officially starts tomorrow with the Greens. UKIP and the Lib Dems will follow, though these initial get-togethers are not unlike the opening rounds of the League Cup, wherein lower division clubs battle it out before the arrival of the big guns from the Premier League. Decrepit Victorian halls in rundown seaside towns were always the traditional locations for such events, though it’s now more common to hold them in major cities, with their slick and somewhat sterile conference centres reflecting the rise of the professional politician.

As they kick-off the season, both the Greens and UKIP are looking for new leaders, with Natalie ‘Brain-fade’ Bennett (sorry, I have a cold) and Nigel ‘Donald Trump’s my mate’ Farage having fallen on their respective swords; and neither party appears to have a suitably inspiring candidate on hand to supersede them. The Liberal Democrats are next on the circuit, but as the much-discussed imaginary alliance with disgruntled anti-Corbyn Labour MPs has yet to progress beyond the optimist’s drawing board, their Brighton shindig probably won’t attract much attention. If anything, the TUC Congress – taking place between UKIP and the Lib Dems – will perhaps provoke more headlines than the first three party conferences, what with most unions buoyed by the rise of the Corbynistas. When it comes to the actual parties, the Labour and Tory bashes will prove more intriguing.

By the time Labour decamp to the stubborn socialist heartland of Liverpool, Jeremy Corbyn will undoubtedly have been re-elected Labour leader and the party’s ownership by the far left will be complete. Back in the days before specialist Parliamentary TV channels, when your average viewer couldn’t opt out because the party conferences used to take up hours of empty telly time during the day on BBC2, the Labour conference in particular could often provide unlikely entertainment. Between the speeches of the suited and booted MPs, shabbily-clad amateur orators took to the podium and occasionally used the word ‘comrades’ when addressing the multitudes swathed in swirling pipe and cigarette smoke. Bearing in mind the way Labour are going in Corbyn’s capable hands, I have a feeling this year’s conference may well revive that neglected tradition bar the tobacco, which used to give those old conferences the look and feel of a mid-70s Rick Wakeman gig drenched in dry ice, albeit without sequinned cloaks.

The fact that this year’s Labour conference is scheduled to begin the day after the announcement as to whether Jezza or Owen ‘Welsh like Bevan, not Kinnock’ Smith has won the leadership should make it worth watching, if only to see how the split affects events. Household names could well be in short supply, though not necessarily down to the Socialist Workers Party vibe. At one time, Cabinet Ministers who’d lost their seats would pen their memoirs and retire to the Lords; now they appear on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ – though I wouldn’t have expected anything less from such an undignified clueless bruiser as Ed Balls.

Once Labour’s born-again lefty love-in has concluded, it’ll be the turn of the Tories – the nation’s eternal party of government and the first conference with Mrs May at the helm. The fact that the Conservatives recovered relatively quickly following the fallout of Brexit and Cameron’s hasty exit (leaving the clear-up of the wreckage he caused to his successor) doesn’t necessarily mean all is well in the blue corner. May has entrusted the task of wrestling the country free from its European ties to a trio of prominent Brexiteers who don’t apparently care much for each other, and amidst the good will usually exerted towards a new PM she will have to keep an eye on the recently-installed residents of the backbenches who owe their place there to her broom. It’ll be the first real chance the country and the party will have to see her in action now she’s had a little breathing space to get used to her promotion, having returned from the hiking holiday that provoked an especially puke-inducing article of fawning arse-licking in the pitiful excuse for ‘The Independent’ that now exists solely in cyberspace.

The final major party conference will be the SNP’s in a rather late mid-October. Fired-up by the Brexit decision Scotland didn’t vote for, Nicola Sturgeon will milk the indignation of her nation by reviving the subject of a second Independence Referendum whilst carefully not giving the impression it was exactly the result she wanted to exorcise the ghosts of 2014. This in turn will supply Theresa May with another constitutional headache on top of invoking Article 50 – if indeed it ever is invoked.

So, the Silly Season is drawing to a welcome close and the serious business of alternately rescuing and f**king up the country is back with our elected representatives. It may take some time before we know for sure how they’re managing with that unenviable task; but from the point of view of writing on the subject, I’ll be happy not to have to trawl for hours every day, fruitlessly searching for stories with substance, which basically constitutes my daily experience of the past couple of months.

© The Editor

FOUR LEFT FEET

SDPIn retrospect, it was inevitably destined to fail in its original incarnation; it was a fragile four-way partnership from the beginning. Like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recording one landmark LP before internal conflict ceased to inspire creativity, competing egos scuppered any chances of long-term success. But hopes were certainly high in some quarters 35 years ago today, when Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers issued the Limehouse Declaration, a media event that confirmed the Gang of Four’s split from Labour and the formation of a new centre-left political party, the SDP. Who can forget that logo – a post-punk graphic classic? Using the same font ‘Melody Maker’ was then employing as its masthead, it made an instant impact at a time when political parties weren’t branded as they are today. In its own small way, that logo said as much about the desire to break with British political tradition as the party’s policies. For a brief moment in 1981, some saw the birth of the Social Democratic Party as the light at the end of the gloomy tunnel the nation had been travelling through for far too long.

From the mid-70s onwards, there had been a series of defections from the Labour party – whether the likes of Dick Taverne and Eddie Milne standing against Labour candidates as independents, having been threatened with de-selection by their local branches as they were infiltrated by Trotskyites, or the likes of Christopher Mayhew and Lord Chalfont joining the Liberal cause – something that suggested Harold Wilson’s largely successful role at playing the pacifist parent keeping his warring offspring on the Left and the Right from engaging in ideological fisticuffs was not entirely effective. It was evident that trouble was brewing beneath the united front, and even the election of moderate Jim Callaghan as Wilson’s successor couldn’t prevent growing dissatisfaction from other moderates within the party over the increasing influence of the far Left. As the Tories took the country to the Right in the wake of the 1979 General Election, the appointment of Michael Foot as Labour leader was the last straw for the Gang of Four.

Despite the shaky start Margaret Thatcher made as Prime Minister – there were even rumours of a coup at one stage in 1981 – the Labour party was already regarded as unelectable; its move towards the far Left in the wake of the 1979 General Election defeat had been a disaster for Labour in popularity polls, with only its most loyal, diehard supporters sticking by Michael Foot, a principled and passionate politician, yes, but one utterly unsuitable for the task of leading the country. The public had blamed the industrial chaos of the late 70s on the more militant tendencies of the Left, and a Labour party still in thrall to the unions, led by a wild-haired eccentric who resembled a mad professor from a Children’s Film Foundation movie, was never going to be elected to office. The calamitous drubbing Labour received at the 1983 General Election had been forewarned by a quartet of Labour moderates stranded by the party’s lurch leftwards.

Jenkins, the avuncular old-timer, Owen, the suave matinée idol for the housewives, Williams, the bossy headmistress, and Rodgers, the Ringo of the band, were all former Labour Ministers who had become disillusioned with their party’s self-destructive policies and felt there was an unoccupied middle ground within British politics at a time when Labour and Conservative were positioned at ideologically-opposed extremes. Some still argue they bottled the challenge of wrestling control of Labour from Foot and Benn in a civil war they perhaps knew they could never win. But the formation of the Social Democratic Party, coming when Thatcher’s popularity was at her lowest ebb and Michael Foot was Public Enemy Number One in the eyes of the right-wing tabloid press, was generally well-received as breath of fresh air.

There were plenty floating voters around in 1981 whose faith in Labour and the Tories was waning after the two had swapped places over the past decade without any discernible improvement in the country’s fortunes, and they welcomed something different. Twenty-eight Labour MPs and one Tory eventually joined the SDP, and a series of by-election victories leading up to the 1983 General Election suggested the new party was a force to be reckoned with, achieving an opinion poll rating of 50% at one stage in 1981.

The arrival of the SDP had also been welcomed by several senior members of the Liberal Party, including their leader, David Steel; it was felt by many Liberals that the two parties were far more ideologically matched than the Liberals had been with Labour during the short-lived Lib-Lab Pact of 1977/78. Perhaps a partnership between the SDP and the Liberal party was inevitable, and the two entered into a mutually-beneficent union at the end of 1981 as the SDP-Liberal Alliance. Although their instant popularity received a knockback when Thatcher’s standing rose considerably in the wake of the Falklands War of 1982, at the 1983 General Election, the party polled 25% of the national vote – though the ‘first past the post’ British electoral system only resulted in 23 Alliance MPs being elected. They fared worse at the 1987 General Election, by which stage the party’s honeymoon period was long gone and Mrs Thatcher was at the peak of her powers.

A complete union between the SDP and the Liberals had long been mooted, but disputes over who should lead them, and growing ideological differences, continued to plague the two parties as the initial promise of the SDP appeared to have floundered in the eyes of voters. Splits within the SDP were compounded when they and the Liberals officially combined as the Liberal Democrats in 1988, a new party that drew most of its numbers from the SDP, yet was led by a former Liberal, Paddy Ashdown. SDP members who opposed the union, most prominently David Owen, staggered on before eventually disappearing from the mainstream political map in the late 1990s, whereas the Lib Dems gradually became the most significant third party in British politics for more than a generation, peaking with a tally of 62 seats at the 2005 General Election under Charles Kennedy.

Some have reduced the SDP to a footnote in British political history, buy there’s no doubt that the SDP proved to the ailing Labour party that it was possible to move towards the middle ground as the warring extremes of Left and Right began to turn many potential voters away from politics by the mid-80s. Labour’s own ideological shift started in earnest during the aftermath of the humiliating ’83 Election hammering, with the appointment of Neil Kinnock as party leader, the first step on the long and winding road to New Labour and power. 35 years on, with the Lib Dems reduced to eight measly MPs (even less than the Liberals had in 1981) and Labour again led by an old-school Socialist with his head in the clouds, could history repeat itself? If so, any breakaway from Labour would require the presence of figures with a little more clout than Chukka Umunna, Liz Kendall or Tristram Hunt. But there aren’t any.

© The Editor