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Tuesday's Connector: David Owen

May 10th, 2010
05:48 PM ET

As the United Kingdom struggles to decide the fate of their next government, one prominent figure from the center-left has the potential to offer unique insight into the role the Liberal Democrats and Labour Party could play.

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/10/owen.art.gettyimages.jpg
caption="David Owen and David Steel are seen here in 1987."]

David Owen is a former British foreign secretary and member of the so-called "Gang of Four" - a breakaway Labour faction who founded the Social Democratic Party in 1981.

Owen led the party from 1983 until 1987 when members voted in favor of a merger with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats.

Owen quit the SDP leadership in opposition to the merger and led a re-formed SDP party from 1988 to 1990, when the party was finally wound up. Since the early 1990s Owen has sat in the House of Lords as a crossbencher, without affiliation to any party.

Prior to helping found the Social Democratic Party, Owen was an influential Labour lawmaker, rising to foreign secretary in the Labour government of the late 1970s.

But it is Owen's involvement in helping form the center-left SDP that he is best-known for. Owen left the Labour Party amid fears that the party was becoming an increasingly left leaning organization that was being heavily influenced by the unions.

As a veteran political insider, Owen can offer a rare insight into the ongoing negotiations between the Lib Dems and both the Labour Party and the Conservatives.

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Keira


    I'd like to know, what's so wrong about "leaning to the left"? Aren't left-leaning people usually more progressive?

    Do you consider yourself a leftist in social or economic issues or both?

    Thanks much!


    May 10, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  2. Adam Kibbey

    I'm a Liberal Democrat supporter, and have been for some time. I'm also 18, but I do politics at school, and will hope to be doing it at university, and due to my age, and views, the Liberal Democrats are a very attractive party.

    Obviously being from the SDP wing of the party, you would care about social justice, better education, fairer taxes etc. Would you (personally, as I know you can't speak for the party as a whole) sacrifice your commitment to electoral reform, in order to make sure that Conservative cuts wouldn't harm the more vulnerable parts of our society? Or is electoral reform a must have precondition for a Lib-Con alliance?

    May 10, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Reply
  3. Jurgen R. Brul

    Hello David Anthony Llewellyn Owen and CNN friends,

    What needs to be done to implement and maintain Peace in the Government of the United Kingdom?

    Jurgen R. Brul
    Paramaribo, Suriname

    May 10, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  4. Jerry in the Gallery

    explain the "percentage" voting system – why is it not counted "One Man – One Vote"?

    May 10, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Reply
  5. Armin

    How about his role in carving up Bosnia with his intimate former friend Milosevich?

    May 10, 2010 at 9:00 pm | Reply
  6. Jimbo


    Can you comment on whether a Lib/Lab coalition is actually sustainable, considering that it will be reliant upon small nationalist parties for a very thin parliamentary majority? How can this be a stable parliamentary government? And is it conscionable for this coalition to be based on nationalist parties, whose demand for support will be to prevent cuts falling anywhere outside of England – particularly considering that this would hardly play well in the next election, likely to be held in a matter of months?


    May 10, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  7. Donah

    Nick might basically be conservative but he is not Tory enough to put Labour in the gutter .. again....
    From the GripeVine.... & Donah..//

    May 10, 2010 at 11:03 pm | Reply
  8. Simon McNorton

    Hello David,

    It is beginning to look like electoral reform is going to be the deciding factor in the choice of a coalition partner for the Liberal Democrats. Do you think that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are right to put electoral reform ahead of other priorities – such as an emergency budget – given that this may be their only chance for a generation?


    Simon McNorton
    London, United Kingdom

    May 10, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  9. Simon McNorton

    Hello David,

    I have a second question.

    Many voters in the UK have not experienced a coalition government and are used to elections producing single party winners. Do you think the electorate will accept a coalition government that does not include the Conservative party – who many people would view as winners in the recent election given that they have the most votes and seats in parliament? Now that Gordon Brown has stepped down, do you think it would be acceptable for Nick Clegg to be Prime Minister in a Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition government?


    Simon McNorton
    London, United Kingdom

    May 10, 2010 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  10. Graham, Bracknell, UK

    Voting Lib Dem seemed for me the right thing to do from a policies point of view and to add my megre weight to the case for proportional representation which I believe in.

    However, if I had had any idea that there would be an alliance between Labour and the Lib Dems that kept the unpopular and discredited Gordon Brown and Labour in power past Friday 7th then I would have voted Conservative. If it does happen I will never be able to vote Lib Dem again.

    Does David Owen think that the Lib Dems joining with Labour could result in the Lib Dems being swallowed up, dragged to the far left and tarred with the same brush as Labour?

    May 11, 2010 at 1:20 am | Reply
  11. Andrew Gallagher

    Hi David

    I was an avid follower of the various incarnations of the SDP in my youth, and voted for them in each election I was eligible. I have since moved to the US and have watched the recent developments from overseas.

    Of all the drama that's unfolded the past week, one thing leaves me quite bemused, and that is the potential for Nick Clegg to even consider talking to the Tories to shape any kind of deal.

    Can you explain the rationale behind this, and why the Lib Dems have not immediately distanced themselves from a party that stands for so many things that go against the ethos of the Liberal Democrats?

    Brooklyn, NYC

    May 11, 2010 at 1:37 am | Reply
  12. Ian Blackwell


    As a Brit living abroad and now somewhat removed from the political process I am somewhat concerned by what these election results say about my country. Would you agree that the complete divergence in results between England, Wales, Scotland and NI indicate that the idea of a 'United' Kingdom has been somewhat stretched? Do you support a separate English parliament? The best workable system going forward in my humble opinion would be a separate parliament for England and the introduction of a 'Presidential' form of government for the whole United Kingdom with control over defense, monetary policy and foreign relations.


    May 11, 2010 at 2:02 am | Reply
  13. Bob

    As a founder member of the SDP back in the 80's all I can say is this is the moment we've been working towards for 30 years. Unfortunately the wilderness years have sapped the energy of members as they repeatedly manned the battering rams in a attempt to win a presence in the parliament and electoral survival necessitated that some of the policies drifted towards the soft left populist end of the spectrum. Let hope that this taste of real power not only results in lasting electoral reform to the Single Transferable Vote in Single Member Constituencies (what is being called the Alternative Vote these days and the system used in Australia by the way) but also toughens up the Lib Dem policy making process a bit.

    AS every political science student will tell you political stability comes from the middle ground and empowering the middle classes and informed voters. For too long now British politics has been lorded over by either the privileged elite or organised left.

    As for this election result I think Clegg should go with the Final Offer that William Hague just put from the Tories provided that:

    There is a specific date for and commitment to a conscience vote of Tory MP's on the Alternative Vote referendum that the Tories are now proposing.

    The coalition that is being proposed by William Hague has a declared common agenda to which both leaders are publicly committed.

    There are some Lib Dems in the Cabinet.

    If this can be achieved the British voters will respond by giving credit where credit is due next time around and British politics will surely have taken a turn for the better.

    May 11, 2010 at 3:43 am | Reply
  14. John Morris

    Hi David

    Can you please confirm that 'progressive' is purely an aspirational title and that it cannot be equated to 'better'. And can you also confirm to all that FAIR tax simply means MORE tax. More of the peoples' resources will be gathered in by the government and rationed out to them according to the political dogma of the Left.

    Thank you


    May 11, 2010 at 9:54 am | Reply
  15. Shani Farrin from Dubai

    Hello David,

    Be it Lib Dems or Labour, do you think they will be able to bring about change that would stabilize and empower the middle class? Or will it again be another government that thinks only about the privilaged elite?

    May 11, 2010 at 10:38 am | Reply
  16. Ashiru u gabasawa

    Hi David which side can you taken among them.

    May 11, 2010 at 11:24 am | Reply
  17. Hello David

    Thank you ever so much for helping me in the mid 70s for staying in your Great Country,after being released from a Isle of Wright Prison . You are not only a super Politician,but also a great human being.Also please extend my regards to your Charming Wife,who at one time tried to help to publish my Book.with kind regards, Dr. Rudolf E. Bartsch

    May 11, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  18. Simon McNorton

    Hello David,

    My other two questions are out of date so I have a third question.

    David Cameron's Conservatives have come a long way but their party contains supporters of Thatcherism, progressive front benchers and very conservative backbenchers. Cameron has struggled at times during the election campaign to make them appear united and rogue outspoken voices have overshadowed their apparent modernisation.

    GIven that Nick Clegg's manifesto can be considered progressive and he will likely ask Cameron to consider options such as electoral reform, a review of Trident, and demand that inheritance tax remains unchanged, do you think a Tory backbench rebellion will become inevitable?


    Simon McNorton

    May 11, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  19. Morgan Dickson

    Hello, David. I'm a vibrant politician at my age 23, i participate in political affilliation both in my school and at home. Iam in support of lib dems because to me the has good focus, vision as well as mission.

    May 12, 2010 at 4:17 am | Reply

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