The Social Democrat Group at UK level was formed some months back with the aim of working with social democrats in and beyond the Liberal Democrats and to build links with them.
At the first fringe meeting in York in the spring of 2016 ( here for a recording) , people asked why another group was necessary when there already existed the Social Liberal Forum (SLF).
Merger resulted in the SDP effectively
splitting down the middle.
The vote between Jenkins and Owen for leader of the party was very near in proportional terms the same as the votes cast on whether the SDP should merge with the Liberals or not.
So it effectively came to pass that nearly half the social democrats did not join the merged party.
Fairly soon after the parties merged in March 1988, there was a lot of controversy about the party’s name – ‘Social and Liberal Democrats’.
Within a relatively short period of time there was extensive agitation and debate about it and in fact the issue was becoming a distraction as the new party was trying to emerge as a new force in UK politics.
I was a member of the National Committee of the SDP for most of its existence and after for four years in the Liberal Democrats until 1992. In 1989 it was decided to place a recommendation before the members at the October party conference of that year to drop the word ’Social’.
Along with the majority of social democrats I felt it was vital that the newly merged party moved on from the inward looking debate over the name!.
So many former members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) agreed that the short name become the ‘Liberal Democrats’.
For me it was no great deal because I had always considered myself as a Lib/Lab. I spoke at conferences on the issue more than once.
At the time some I did have a fear that this might mean that eventually we would be called Liberals and that the SDP heritage would be forgotten and side lined. Under the leadership of Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy I knew that would never happen. The reality was that well into the 1990s, and this was most definitely the case in Wales, the influential voices came from the SDP side of the Alliance and the early years of the merged party.
By the mid 1990’s I had no further dealings with politics until the May 2015 and upon my return it soon became apparent to me that I now was in a different scene altogether. Nick Clegg had moved the party towards ‘economic and market liberalism’ and not only was social liberalism being side-lined but most definitely the use of the term ‘social democracy’.
Increasingly over the last nine months – ever since the leadership contest between Farron and Lamb in fact – far too often to my liking members party members refer to themselves as Liberals and talk about Liberalism so sure enough, increasingly, we are being called Liberals. I haven’t liked it and made my views known to senior members of the party and in contributions on social media as well,
The Welsh Social Democrat Group therefore aims to promote social democracy within the Welsh Liberal Democrats and also to salvage and develop social democratic thinking within the party hierarchy and membership.
But we will also aim to build better relations with social democrats who remain outside the party, in Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.
Personally I am a strong advocate of a Progressive Alliance in order to combat the Tories at the next election.
At UK level George Kendall, the chair of the parent group committee, along with others have already started building links with the Labour blog ‘Labour-Uncut’, and it recently published one of George’s articles.
Here in Wales we hope to build relations with all centre-left groups.
We’re a Lib Dem group, and anyone with full membership is a Lib Dem member. As far as we are concerned, anyone who thinks of themselves as a social democrat, and agrees with the values of the preamble of the party constitution, is a social democrat. Those who aren’t members can become associate members.
While we don’t exist to promote specific policies, we want to help the development of social democratic thinking, both in and outside of the party. However, we will be facilitators not a pressure group.
I have no doubt that there are many social democrats looking for a new home, group or movement to coalesce around.