We are joined by Steve Kelleher, the recent London Mayoral candidate for the SDP, and Scott Neville, the Co-Founder of the Hampshire Independents, as we discuss the lack of an effective opposition to the current Government and where a future opposition might come from.
Eric Siva-Jothy heads up the London Assembly, London wide list for the SDP. We have already spoken with the SDP Mayoral Candidate Steve Kelleher on our Podcast. Eric is a student of Law & Criminology, describes himself as a small-c conservative and is the London region representative for the SDP Youth movement.
Eric thanks for speaking with us.
Can you start by introducing yourself, and tell us what led to you standing for the SDP?
My name is Eric Siva-Jothy and I’ve lived in London now for a little over 4 years, I’m 24 and currently studying for an LLB in Law with a minor in Criminology at university. The main reason I put myself forward to stand for the SDP is frankly everything from the government’s handling of endless, increasingly incoherent lockdowns at the national level to the woeful handling of crime in London. Given my area of study I am particularly passionate about the latter, and some of the worrying trends I’ve been exposed to living in East London over the past few years make inaction not really an option for me anymore. That’s everything from the degree to which burglaries are never even followed up, to the open proliferation of cannabis use on the streets I’ve seen (often right in the presence of authorities themselves). It just seems police priorities are more in public virtue signalling with police Pride vans than being an active presence of law and order. Of course, with the looming unparalleled economic crash we’re in for post-lockdown, crime will only be exacerbated even further in the midst of a Met police and a Mayor that I don’t think are ready to confront it, let alone even attempting to make preparations for such a scenario.
Although we’ve spoken to a number of people from the Party, for those less familiar can you tell us about some of the SDP’s national policy’s?
I usually describe ourselves to people as ‘Blue Labour’, I myself am a former Labour Party member but I left shortly after Corbyn’s election to the leadership, although the party was already in a dire state when it came to marginalising more socially conservative voices. The Social Democratic Party is my natural political home in this regard, economic Left/social Right, which according to studies tends to actually be the average political outlook in this country. Our national policies include reshoring industry and manufacturing to the UK & adopting a state-led industrial strategy, reducing immigration, renationalising the railways, calling for a full government review into political bias at the BBC and Channel 4, tax benefits to married couples and legal protections for free speech in academia. I strongly recommend giving our document “The New Declaration” a read, that sets out our ethos and outlook broadly.
Even in lockdown we have significant street crime problems in London, we have constantly rising local taxes and contention between public and private transport. How will the SDP tackle these issues?
Our number one priority is putting more police on the streets. For this we’ve set an ambitious target of up to ten thousand new officers to be deployed in active community patrols, using the highly successful ‘broken windows’ strategy London’s twin city New York employed to great success in the 1990s. This means directing police to be actively present and patrolling around key crime hot spots, including expanding the use of stop and search, which serves both as a strong deterrent and provides the ability to intervene quickly when crime occurs. Of course nowadays anti-police sentiment is a trendy left-wing cause we have to contend with, but the evidence shows very clearly that the active method of policing works and saves lives. We plan on funding this by cutting waste at City Hall, reviewing how the Met uses its funding and then streamlining or abolishing what is unnecessary (the epidemic of ‘tweet policing’, which i’m sure many of your readers will be aware of, comes to mind here), and using TfL’s incredibly commercially valuable landholdings to raise money for the London budget.
In regards to transport, we will push back against ridiculous policies like ULEZ, poorly thought-out cycle lane expansions and the undemocratic imposition of LTNs that cause more problems than they solve. I am utterly dumbfounded by the choice to try and reduce automobile use and shift the burden from that onto public transport in a time when TfL is about to enter an unprecedented financial crisis. It simply wont be able to pick up the slack, especially in the coming post-lockdown economy; is now really the time to opportunistically mess around with environmentalist social engineering plans and their unforeseen consequences on those reliant on car travel? Lower-income and often older workers in the outer parts of London especially require cars to travel long distances to and from work, and they’re hit hardest by such policies. In the end expansion and investment in both TfL and automobile infrastructure, like reopening the Hammersmith Bridge and completing the Silvertown Tunnel, will combat congestion and concentrated air pollution far more than the ideology-driven penalising of London’s motorists.
What are the SDPs others priorities for London?
Housing. Labour has repeatedly failed to live up to its housing targets and due to outdated ideas like right-to-buy we have seen a continuous decline in the public housing stock that exacerbates the crisis. Our main goal will be to reach a target of constructing 50,000 new council houses a year, using money raised from methods outlined above, combined with having tenants waive their right-to-buy on all new builds. This means we can keep housing in public ownership, and in turn there’d be a knock-on effect of reducing prices and rent in the private sector. In that vein, the SDP will introduce a points system that gives those who’ve lived longest in an area priority on the housing ladder. This is designed to help build more local communities and combat the current atomising trend of renterism dispersing families and friends all over the city. There would also be a knock-on effect on crime: closer-knit communities with more familiarity tend to have much lower crime rates.
If elected to the Assembly what would you like to work on and achieve?
Aside from holding the Mayor to account and working with other AMs to carry out what i’ve outlined above, I’m especially interested in preserving the historical and architectural heritage of London. If elected, I would like to advance a vision that more monuments and statues to our past be constructed around the city as part of a broader beautification project, and to engage our struggling arts community post-lockdown in creating public displays celebrating and uplifting Britain instead of putting it down. Something similar to the USAs Federal Arts Project in the 1930s, which in my humble opinion would be a far better use of London’s culture budget than changing traffic lights in Trafalgar Square. I would also rigorously resist any introduction of intrusive and compulsive domestic “vaccine passports”; I consider the very fact they’re even being floated grossly sinister in its potential curtailing of civil liberties and permanently altering our way of life.
If people want to know more about the SDP and their movement how do they get in touch?
Go to our website, where you can read our policies in full as well as our statement of principles. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or our fantastic Mayoral candidate Steve Kelleher at email@example.com.
Eric can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SdpEric.
We are joined by Steve Kelleher, the London Mayoral Candidate for the SDP, as we discuss the opening of Beer Gardens, the London and local election campaigns and the nominations in the 5 Croydon Council By-Elections. We then chat with Steve about the SDP, his Mayoral campaign and his Vision for London.
We are joined by Ian Woodley, the SDP organiser for Surrey, as we discuss the Covid Vaccine Rollout, the Biden Inauguration and the Government’s Levelling Up Agenda. We then chat with Ian about the SDP and their plans in Surrey..
Now we have left the Transition Period we asked Brexiteers if they feel Brexit is now complete, for their hopes and their predictions for the future. Part 1 below. Part 2 up at http://croydonconstitutionalists.uk/brexiteers-on-brexit-part-2/
Did Brexit get done? Time will tell, first impressions suggest it’s not perfect but could be called done.
How do you hope the U.K. will use the new found freedoms? To shrink government interference and regulation in individual lives, leading to economic prosperity and greater individual freedom. I hope we will find a way to make CANZUK happen, or something like it, without giving up sovereignty.
What constitutional reform would you like to see happen next? A written constitution and bill of rights which reduces the power of the state, protects individual rights, reduces the tendency of democracy to become mob rule, and makes government more local and accountable.
What do you think is next for the EU? Continued slide to greater technocracy, more regulation, further loss of voice and liberty for individual citizens, expansionist outlook seeking to control more territory.
John Broadfoot political campaigner and charity founder.
Did Brexit get done? Yes at the end of the day we have taken back control of our laws, borders and money, though it is a worry that for some reason the UK/EU Trade Deal did not include 80% of our trade with the EU – financial services. One can only hope there is a good reason for this – but it is vital and a big concern. We inevitably had to make some concessions but even with the fish we will have virtual total control in five and a half years. As our economy booms, politically and practically I believe , the EU will not be able to hold us back by increasing tariffs. Even “ Rejoiners” will become “ Rejoicers” as they see the real value of UK sovereignty, freedom to do our own trade deals and controlling our population numbers to better plan future infrastructure – hospitals, school, transport etc and keep us safe from terrorist attacks.
How do you hope the U.K. will use the new found freedoms? It is not a perfect deal but with the return of sovereignty and democracy we are now in a position to make our own trade deals and boom as an independent entrepreneurial trading nation, outside of the declining undemocratic EU. Already we have made over 60 worldwide trade deals and we have carried out more vaccine injections that the whole of the EU put together. The EU will continue to decline and despite safeguards on tariffs that they have built in, they won’t be able to prevent the UK from booming. This will set an example to other EU sceptic member countries and they will be looking for the exit door too. Especially with the Franco/German push even further towards an EU super state that further diminishes local democracy and accountability.
What constitutional reform would you like to see happen next? Most urgent is Westminster and the role of the Speaker – so clearly not fit for purpose and so abused by Remainer Bercow during the Brexit process. Plus MPs must deliver on the Manifestos on which they were elected – not just choose their own personal approach, and ignoring the wishes of the majority of their constituents when they get to the House. Next important is reforming. reducing , possibly abolishing, the ridiculously huge , undemocratic House of Lords. Finally, new rules on the Honours system to stop cronyism and abuse. You don’t get an honour for just doing your job – e.g. an Ambassador.
What do you think is next for the EU? Very interesting and difficult to predict with Merkel and Macron not likely to be around by the end of the year. With the UK gone the Franco/German axis will try to dominate EU policy. If the UK does well and horrendous EU youth unemployment continues then some of the newer Eastern European members may look for an out or major reform.
Robert Ward Conservative Councillor Selsdon and Addington Village.
Did Brexit get done? Yes, Brexit got done, and better than I had expected. Removing the ECJ from the equation was vital. What is now important is to move on and make the most of it. We have already wasted far too much time bickering.
How do you hope the U.K. will use the new found freedoms? I would start with replacing the Common Agricultural Policy by supporting our farmers to use the land in a more environmentally friendly and productive way. This was the most controversial policy when we joined and one which for me, who voted to stay in in 1975, found the most egregious. Reform was promised because it was so disadvantageous to the UK but it came very slowly indeed because it had been designed as a mechanism to subsidise French farmers. That failure was one of the things that changed my mind about the EU.
What constitutional reform would you like to see happen next? A big problem is local government. That’s something that seems to work better in some other countries. Local people understand better than here which politician is responsible for delivering what and vote accordingly. In the UK the vast majority do not and as a consequence vote on national issues. That is in my opinion a major contributor to the mess that Labour has got us into in Croydon. No matter how incompetent Croydon Labour were and how we as an opposition pointed it out, Tony Newman just blamed central government. Too many voters believed him.
What do you think is next for the EU? I hope they do well but the signs are not good. They are refusing to learn the lessons of Brexit. Their solution to failure is always more EU. Criticism of that line is also very muted. The BBC isn’t the only national broadcaster that follows the EU-can-do-no-wrong line.
Ian Woodley, SDP organiser in Surrey.
Did Brexit get done? Yes, sort of. I think time had come to be pragmatic and move on. Despite the Labour party grudgingly voting for the deal, they are clearly positioning themselves to “improve” the deal which in their terms means weaken it and a Labour government would end in BRINO. The government need to prove the benefits before the 2024 election as we may find much of the good work undone. Leavers should learn the lesson of 2016 in that rather than celebrating the referendum result and taking our foot of the gas we needed to close it out. This isn’t the end of the matter.
How do you think the UK will use its new found freedom? This is an area where the current government and I part ways. They are classic neo liberals and will look to turn us into a global buyer of cheap goods whereas the strategy I favour is to rebuild our industries and positively favour UK produced goods and services, we need to put the needs of our own people first.
What constitutional reform would you like to see happen next? As a Social Democrat this is a big issue for us. The Brexit debacle proved that MPs, in this case remain leaning MPs, were not to be trusted and voted against the wishes of their voters, that cannot happen again. We would introduce proportional representation and abolish the House of Lords whilst we were at it. A personal beef of mine is that if MPs choose to swap parties mid-term then they should be asked to stand at a by-election. Whilst all of the switchers were punished in the 2019 election we had to put up with them for the previous 3 years.
What do you think is next for the EU? Tough to say, I don’t see anything happening quickly but the lack of British money and our steadying influence the differences between North, South and Eastern Europe will become more apparent. I really feel for those countries in the Euro as they are well and truly stuffed, our escape was made easier by not having to worry about currency. Watch youth unemployment in Southern Europe, that can no longer be exported to the UK.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) continued to exist after the merger with the Liberal Party to form the ironically named Liberal Democrats. The pro-Brexit party, anti-lockdown and anti-woke SDP have attracted some high profile support. We interviewed Andrew Bence, back in April and have published and worked with the party.
Ian thank-you for your time.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Ian Woodley. I am the Surrey Coordinator for the Social Democratic Party. I was born In South London and spent my school years in Croydon, Elmwood and Selhurst Grammar /High and now live in Woking. I run a couple of businesses that raise investment for the restaurant sector and British manufactured goods, I have 4 children and one grandson.
Food, Music and Sport dominate my personal interests, lifelong Palace fan, once chairman of Dulwich Hamlet FC, Harlequins supporter, Americana music and a keen home cook.
The party is gaining publicity, but it’s still fair to say the SDP is not a well-known as it once was. What first attracted you to the party?
The party has had a roller coaster past. It is 40 years old in January and hit the heights with the “gang of four” in the early 80s. Then followed what turned out to be a disastrous alliance with the Liberals which ended in a full merger and gave them the word “Democrat” which is something over Brexit they have obviously forgotten. Those who didn’t want to throw their lot in with the Liberals such as Dr David Owen kept the flag flying and the party has existed at grass roots level ever since. Membership is now growing as we have enjoyed greater visibility. Like most people I have gone almost full circle on political views as I have grown older, before joining the SDP I was an “inactive” member of the Conservative party although was never a fan of austerity and got very frustrated with the infighting and ill discipline over Brexit. I now very much feel at home.
We described the SDP as pro-Brexit party, anti-lockdown and anti-woke SDP. Would you agree with these descriptions and what are your thoughts on where things are on these issues?
All of those things are certainly true although that sells us a bit short. We are very much Red Tory Blue Labour. We sit left of centre on economic matters such as a fairer distribution of wealth and renationalising the railways. As you suggest we are socially conservative although radical in some matters such as the abolition of the house of lords and creation of an English parliament. Specifically, at the time of writing I really hope Boris doesn’t bottle it, we have come too far for a fudged compromise. I am in line with the party’s views on lockdown in that what we really needed was a longer term consistent policy not the endless stop/starts which have destroyed some sectors and as for woke, I see this an unwelcome American import which has highlighted that our media and academia is laden with progressive liberals who are a real danger to free speech and British culture.
We are hopefully coming out of the worst of the Covid Lockdown crisis. What would you do to help us recover?
Firstly I would say that now there is news of a vaccine do not expect the government to change its approach. To me I think the discussion around state aid and Brexit are crucial. What the government need is free a hand to stimulate British Industry. I think the major difference between us and the other parties on this is that we would be far more interventional and not leave everything to the vagaries of the free market which would mean more jobs effectively exported to China. We have a buy British policy where possible for government procurement.
The SDP are a communitarian party, what do you think we should be doing to build a more coherent national community?
That isn’t a five-minute job as our communities have been undermined for decades. Culturally I think the governments Australian style immigration policy is on the right track in that we need to slow the flow to allow things to settle. Never were the British people asked for their views on mass uncontrolled immigration. Most are in favour of immigration but not at the speed it has happened in past decades a situation made worse by there never being a plan for integration. The free market liberals whether they be Labour or Conservative have viewed immigration as a means to plug gaps in the need for short term unskilled labour but without factoring in issues such as housing and the NHS which have become stretched. We have also hugely ignored the needs of our own working class who have understandably felt that they have been pushed to the back of the queue. What some people call racism is actually resentment which has built as a result of thoughtless government policy. We have a policy for new immigrants “All will be required to agree to a pledge to uphold and adhere to contemporary British values as a condition of migration” which will light up the wokeratti but is what we feel most British people would expect. As a nation we have grown afraid to actually say what we want on this issue.
Economically there are huge extremes of wealth and the North South divide is real. We keep hearing the term levelling up but that will not happen on its own and will need steering from government.
You’re an ex-Croydonian what are your memories of growing up here, and thoughts on the now bankrupt borough?
I spent years 2-22 in Croydon, as mentioned earlier I was at Elmwood in West Croydon, which had the countries first schools steel band! Going to see Palace at the age of 6, the last year of the 11 plus and going to Selhurst Grammar seeing the head boy wearing a cape. No more first year intake so we were the youngest boys in the school for 4 years in a row. Discovering Lady Edridge girls school even though Selhurst girls school was right next door. Working my Saturday job at Sainsburys in the Whitgift centre and the many pubs we used to frequent around Croydon. I must admit not being close enough to understand what has happened with Croydon council but I was saddened by the news as I am sure most old croydonians were.
How are the SDP making headway in Surrey, how have you been campaigning and what are your plans once we’re back to a more normal situation?
I only took on my role this summer so have not actually enjoyed a period of freedom to convene a meeting of existing members live so to speak and comms revolve around zoom calls . This is massively frustrating as it has been very difficult to make any headway. We are focused on getting some candidates out for the forthcoming Council elections in May and will be all guns blazing once we can get back to some form of normal. I think in common with most members of the party we believe we have a compelling message but as we get so little coverage progress is painfully slow.
We have made ourselves busy in objecting to Surrey County Council’s bid to get rid of the 11 district and borough councils to create one mega unitary authority. Too big and not accountable.
What are the local issues you think the party can make headway on in Surrey?
Surrey is very Conservative, all 11 constituencies are viewed as safe seats so we are under no illusion that we have an uphill battle. That said I feel there are a great number of disillusioned Tory voters who would certainly feel comfortable our policies and I think a number of people vote Lib Dem thinking they are centrist when on many issues they clearly aren’t. Housing and Transport are the big two. Its impossible for young couples to get onto the housing ladder and our solution is to dust off the concept of council housing which worked well for decades but then became ideologically unacceptable. We would also nationalise the railways its expensive and not very good and every Surrey commuter we feel would happily encourage a complete rethink.
If you could introduce two big changes Surrey and two nationally what would they be?
Only two? In Surrey as mentioned above, we must resolve the housing issues and make public transport more affordable and efficient, it should be our jewel in the crown.
Nationally, lets go big, proportional representation and abolish the house of lords. The people of this country will not get the government it needs and deserves under the current archaic system.
Are there any thoughts you would like to leave our readers with?
Wow, haven’t I said enough. Without sounding like a conspiracy theorist, which I am not. We need to be very alive to the creeping globalism of huge tech firms, big pharma , vested interest and a political elite who seem to forget they are accountable to the people who put hem there. Brexit was a fantastic reminder of this, forgetting the EU for a minute, it was the British people saying Oy! This is not what we want! That however was the start of a bigger fight to defend democracy not the finish as we found out.
Learning the lessons of EU membership we must not sleepwalk into a situation where we find that our views and our vote no longer count.
Ian can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/IanWoodley6. The SDP are online https://sdp.org.uk/, on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxHouHEwW8AguK_Vi1y_duQ with some great interviews, on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheSDPUK and on Twitter https://twitter.com/TheSDPUK.
This has not been the spring we social democrats hoped for. Building a political party is fiendishly difficult at the best of times, but as lockdown drags on, political engagement has become all but impossible for minnows like us.
We need to meet, to bond and to campaign. In the early months of this year we were planning, at very least, to consolidate our 2019 achievements. Regular branch meetings, local election campaigns and a conference in June would have been the building blocks taking us to the next level. Instead we have to look to the future.
On that score there are reasons to feel positive. The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the need for the communitarian values we hold dear. The limitations of a globalism that leaves us over-dependent and under-powered has been acknowledged. The willingness of people to embrace the ‘we’re in this together’ approach has been striking. There is even consensus emerging around the need to avoid future austerity measures that would affect communities least able to absorb them.
Meanwhile, party leader William Clouston has produced proposals for a post-pandemic recovery programme, which is more than can be said for the Labour Party. They recognise that the shadow of Covid-19 will be broad and long and escaping it will be a national endeavour and a multi-generational task. Proposals involve the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) identifying the aggregate excess public debt generated by the pandemic; making sure this debt neither imposes an era of austerity or undermines Britain’s financial credibility, achieved by transferring this debt to a separate UK Covid 2080 Sinking Fund which will pay the debt off over 60 years; and making the income from bonds issued within the fund tax-free for UK citizens.
But is this enough? In 2019, the struggle for Brexit and the hopelessness of the Labour Party were gifts for us. With so much at stake and a general election in the offing, we had purpose and our message was distinctive. Now, with both main parties converging on the middle ground, and the Liberal Democrats beginning their slow journey back to credibility, where do we fit in?
Perhaps ‘fitting in’ is the wrong aim. Rather, we need to define a truly radical centre distinct from the politics of the mainstream. Our New Declaration, written two years ago, went some way towards this, championing family values long abandoned by the Conservatives, and the virtues of patriotism so despised by Labour. Advocating a social democratic nation state in a post-neoliberal world has been a radical stance in recent years, but now we need to go further.
The new normal – whatever it proves to be – will ask this of us. Post-pandemic, society has the opportunity to reconsider its aims and values, but the hyperpartisans will be the least well-equipped to respond. When a paradigm shift is required they will be found wanting. We are not like them. With others from the margins, including Blue Labour and unorthodox greens through to classical liberals and libertarians, we found common cause in Brexit. Post-pandemic, and still under the present electoral system, something similar is going to be needed if we are to have influence.
That outsider status may be key. As I write this, Nigel Farage is again speaking for millions of us as he single-handedly campaigns against the latest wave of illegal immigrants hitting the south coast, the criminals ably supported by both the French and British Border Forces. Millions have viewed his videos yet there is virtually no mainstream media coverage and not a single leading politician has commented. Once again these arbiters of so-called public discourse have been cowed by the race baiters into silence and inaction.
Meanwhile, China prepares to impose a new security law on Hong Kong, further limiting freedoms and silencing Beijing’s opponents. Unfortunately for them, any lingering responsibility (or just concern) we may feel for Hong Kong will have no effect as the UK’s media and political class are wholly preoccupied at the moment pursuing a personal vendetta against the prime minister’s adviser Dominic Cummings. And of course once this ‘story’ is done with, it will be replaced by another equally trivial distraction.
The point is, their agenda is not ours, and the gulf between us grows. That’s why so many of us have been driven online, where free thinking is still mostly permitted. Interested in serious debate, happy to address complexity and nuance, wary of tribalism and even open to the possibility of our minds being changed, we really are a very odd bunch, apparently.
We’re the only ones, it seems, who understand how Trump could be elected or Brexit supported by people other than bigots. We’re often the ones challenging the tyranny of economic growth at all costs. The ones championing free speech and academic rigour. Decrying the idiocy of HS2, resisting the ‘gated institutional narrative’, exploring the ‘meaning crisis’, and laughing at woke’s many absurdities.
The mainstream? It is time we wrestled that mantle away from them, and conventional party politics alone won’t hack it. An open border policy on good ideas is needed, and the creative campaigning and alliances that follow. We won’t agree on everything – thank goodness. Cuddly libertarian Dominic Frisby reminds me of this in his recent tweet, ‘If you still have faith in government and government systems after Corona, Lord help you’. In addition, we will need to avoid the dangerous cranks. But there’s a parallel political universe out there – intelligent, tolerant, progressive even – standing in the wings. How much longer should we wait for our cue?
In 1981 the Gang of Four founded the SDP and it exploded onto the British Political scene. Following the merger with the Liberal Party in 1988 the SDP still continued. Led by William Clouston it is a pro-Brexit party, with some high profile supporters that include former UKIP MEP and Political Editor of the Daily Express Patrick O’Flynn and former Today Editor Rod Liddle. The Croydon Constitutionalists had Kent SDP candidate Richard Plackett speak at our Debate for Democracy in April 2019.
We speak to one of the SDP’s London team Andrew Bence about the Party, Brexit, and current events.
Andrew thank-you for your time.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved in politics?
That well-worn and variously attributed quote that goes something like “Any man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart; any man who is still a socialist at 40 has no head” applies to me.
In 1976, I joined the Labour Party. I was 16, a reader of the Guardian and the New Statesman, marching to Ban the Bomb, Rock Against Racism and free Nelson Mandela. But the ‘Labour Party Young Socialists’ were fast becoming the foot soldiers of the Militant Tendency – the Momentum of their day. My first doubts surfaced around this time.
I remember suggesting to LPYS comrades that we have a debate, in order to thrash out the arguments for and against the ‘Gang of Four’. Unfortunately, none of my comrades could imagine there being any arguments in support of those traitors Owen, Jenkins, Williams and Rodgers. So I found myself having to make their case. Nobody was convinced.
My membership lapsed and my doubts increased. I remember admiring Kinnock’s ‘I warn you’ conference speech, while finding the trade union leadership of the miners strike and its ‘scab-taunting’ rhetoric much less appealing. Later, after the great promise of the mid 1990s, I was deeply disappointed by the smug and complacent managerialism of Blair and Brown. Theirs, it seems to me, was the greatest political missed opportunity of our times. By 2010, I had stopped voting Labour.
The EU referendum was a catalyst for me, as for so many others. Finding myself in favour of leaving – unlike most of my fellow middle-class, educated, Londoners – I was forced to pay close attention to the reasons for this disjunction. The very shape of politics at national level, usually so slow to change, was by now buckling under the pressure. The re-emergence of the Social Democratic Party was a product of those shifting tectonic plates, prompting me to become politically active for the first time in 30 years.
For our readers who don’t know much about the SDP tell us about the party?
You could be forgiven for thinking the SDP, formed by those four breakaway Labour MPs in 1981, had disappeared long ago, subsumed into what became the Liberal Democrats. In fact, a tiny group kept it going, albeit in near-total obscurity. During this time they developed the party’s communitarian, Eurosceptic philosophy. Brexit shone a light on that USP, and we remain the only pro-Brexit party on the centre-left.
The EU aside, it’s our communitarianism that distinguishes us from Liberal Democrats. For liberals, it’s all about individual rights. They have lost sight of the importance of the group to the individual. So liberals are not really interested in community, not really that interested in family, and there’s a huge hostility to the nation state. We, however, think that the nation is where you convene to do things like the National Health Service, and to look out for one another. The current coronavirus emergency exemplifies this. We’re red-and-blue centrists, if you like. But the blue bits are pretty blue and the red bits are pretty red.
In 2019 you stood for the SDP in Tottenham against among others David Lammy. How did you find the experience, did you get to meet the anti-democracy MP David and any funny stories from the campaign trail?
I’d only joined the party earlier in the year, so it was a quite surreal experience. With only a small London branch, its members scattered far and wide, we had to be realistic. This was always going to be about trying to raise the profile of the party rather than seriously challenging the incumbent in one of Labour’s safest seats. Even that proved difficult. So safe a seat was it, that Lammy spent most of the campaign away up north, in a futile attempt to prop up the Labour vote there. At the one hustings to take place in Tottenham, only the three main party candidates were invited. I spoke briefly from the floor. It proved to be my one and only campaign ‘speech’. The enduring memory of the campaign has to be the drudgery of leafleting, made bearable by the kind support of a few stalwart colleagues.
Were you involved in the 2016 Referendum campaign and do you have any memories from then?
I didn’t campaign, but I was captivated by the debate. As a local authority worker, I had the chance to observe the vote at close quarters as, on the day itself, I was a poll clerk in one of the borough’s mobile polling stations. Ours was probably the quietest station in the borough, a two-both portacabin on a small housing estate. Even so, you sensed something monumental might be happening.
Many of us are still shocked at how many of the political and media class wanted to overturn the 2016 democratic vote of the people. What do you hope will shake out from the Brexit vote and the attempt to betray Democracy?
Previously unrecognised divisions were laid bare by Brexit, highlighting how out of touch the political class and elites generally had become. In the normal aftermath of such turbulence, the dust would by now be settling and a new political landscape emerging. But coronavirus has put paid to that. I don’t think anyone knows where we will be in, say, two years’ time. The one chink of light I can see is that wherever intelligent political conversations take place, communitarian ideas are now featuring front and centre.
Schadenfreude – how much did you enjoy the Illiberal Undemocrats failure at the last election?
Bigly, as the leader of the free world might say. I confess to doing a little jig when Swinson’s result came through. At the Tottenham hustings, I had gone round the room handing out my leaflets. All present accepted the offer graciously, all except the Liberal Democrat candidate’s two student lackeys. Refusing to take a leaflet, all they could muster were graceless sneers.
It’s difficult for smaller parties to make headway under first past the post. How do you see the SDP building support?
It’s going to be very difficult. Let’s assume, for all Starmer’s efforts, that Labour remains hopelessly out of touch, and likewise the Liberal Democrats. And that the Government comes through the coronavirus emergency mostly unscathed. In which case, an opposition-shaped hole remains.
For the SDP to fill it we first need to find several relatively high-profile SDP supporters willing to stand as candidates, in mayoral elections, by-elections and the like, giving us the publicity boost needed to get us off the launchpad. After that, the hard slog of local campaigning needs to be combined with energetic and media-savvy leadership of the highest order. Only then will the relevance of our values and policies begin to strike people.
If these were normal times, I’d be pessimistic about our chances. But these are not normal times. ‘Business as usual’ will no longer do in politics, and the so-called ‘culture war’ has only just begun, as those of us inclined to resist woke orthodoxy begin to get our act together. In short, I am optimistic that the SDP has a part to play in the future of centre-left politics in the UK.
If there were three policies you would like to pass now what would they be?
Creation of a National Care Service to organise social care and fund it once a recipient has reached an agreed ceiling for their own financial contributions.
Scrap HS2 and invest some of the freed-up funds to create a Great Northern Railway Network, better linking up the towns and cities of the North of England to unleash their joint potential.
Constitutional reform encompassing the creation of an English Parliament (outside London), the abolition of the House of Lords, and the introduction of Proportional Representation for all elections.
We are writing at the time of the Covid19 pandemic. Boris has a big majority, and once this is over, what would you like to see the government focus on?
That would depend on what state we’re in, economically and socially, by the time we’re through it. But clearly there will be lessons to learn, and perhaps even a once in a generation opportunity to think afresh about the kind of society we want to live in, and what it takes for that society to be sustainable. Unsurprisingly, I think the SDP can make a valuable contribution to that debate.
Any thoughts you would like to leave us with?
Thanks for this invitation, and congratulations on the Croydon Constitutionalists initiative. Among other things, Brexit taught us the value of essentially non-partisan grassroots activism and engagement such as yours.
Grassroots democracy was in action in Croydon on Thursday 18th April, when the Croydon Constitutionalists held their inaugural Debate for Democracy. Five democracy honouring pro-Brexit parties spoke and took place in a debate at the Green Dragon on Croydon high street.
Unlike so many in Westminster all parties agree on honouring the biggest vote in British history and the evening focused on a post-Brexit Britain. Questions covered a wide range of topics from knife crime, where a number of participants spoke about the need to rebuild families, alongside tough sentences. Chris Mendes the former Vote Leave lead in Croydon South and now Foundation Party Leader quoted a recent case where someone caught with a assortment of knives on them, was given just a four month suspended sentence.
Parties policies on the Customs Union was an area of agreement with all saying they wanted to leave it, and move to WTO terms. In the event us being caught in the Backstop, Richard Plackett who in 2002 stood for Labour in Shirley and is now the SDP London and South East Regional Organiser, suggested they would want to give notice to leave and use the Vienna Convention to ensure we did.
Direct verses Representative democracy was a reoccurring theme, Neville Watson the Democrats and Veterans Party Spokesman for Cities, Urban Communities & Sport, and Sean Finch Libertarian Party candidate in the Lewisham East By Election speaking in favour of a Swiss style model. UKIP Croydon Chair Hoong Wai Cheah, who stood in Lewisham West in the 2017 general election and Old Coulsdon in last years local elections, spoke about UKIP retaining its deposit in the Newport by-election and how we need to move to a Proportional Representation system for elections.
In a change from the tribal nature of so much of politics the representatives and their supporters stayed behind to enjoy a drink and swap stories from many campaign trails. With the current two party system broken these parties showed how the future of politics can be different.
Audio from the night available on YouTube at:
Panel Part 1 https://youtu.be/J_e-2IffCEo
Panel Part 2 https://youtu.be/Ults3b-k-cQ
The Croydon Constitutionalists are hosting a ‘Debate for Democracy’ of democracy honouring pro-Brexit parties in April. Representatives of the Democrats and Veterans Party, Foundation Party, Libertarian Party, SDP and UK Independence Party, will be setting out their agenda for a democratic Britain and taking part in the panel debate.
The debate will be held upstairs at the Green Dragon, 60 High St, Croydon CR0 1NA from 7pm on the 18th April 2019. All parties are pro-Brexit and honouring the biggest vote in British history. Each speaker will be given 5 minutes to talk about their party and plans for Britain free from the EU.
Democrats and Veterans Party – Neville Watson
Party spokesman for Cities, Urban Communities & Sport, Neville has been actively involved as a social / community activist for over 30 years, often fighting against the odds for social justice and equality. The party fights to ensure that the government serve the interests of the people ahead of special and foreign interests; and for the sovereign will of the British people to be asserted on our servants in Parliament – by campaigning for Direct Democracy.
Foundation Party – Chris Mendes
Party Leader Chris has declared the major political parties not fit for purpose, the country is desperately missing a party, one that is more patriotic and genuinely at the service of ordinary people rather than themselves. Chris was the Vote Leave lead in Croydon South during the referendum. The Foundation Party is a long-term project for building a serious platform for clear patriotic principles for like-minded individuals who believe that our country can do so much better.
Libertarian Party – Sean Finch
Libertarian party candidate in the Lewisham East By Election, Sean is an avid free-speech advocate. The party stands for lower taxes for both individuals and companies, small government, free speech and individual responsibility. They support free trade and free enterprise whilst believing that people should make their own choices and not rely on the government. They support a withdrawal from the European Union and a return to the free trade agreements that it was founded on.
SDP – Richard Plackett
Richard is the London and South East Regional Organiser for the Social Democratic Party. The SDP represents the radical centre of British politics today, defining the limits of the market and the state and harnessing both to rebuild Britain. The Party aims to provide a political home to all social democrats who seek a stronger and more capable state along with greater individual responsibility, trust and social solidarity.
UKIP – Hoong Wai Cheah
UKIP Croydon Chair Hoong Wai has stood in Coulsdon for recent council elections and Lewisham West in the 2017 general election. UKIP is a Party that represents freedom, freedom from the European Union, freedom from political correctness and Cultural Marxism, freedom of speech, and freedom to be proud to be British. UKIP’s mission is to show the way forward for Britain as an independent, self-governing, democratic nation. They want trade, friendship and co-operation with the world.
This is a great chance to see local representatives of parties that are growing as people are increasingly dissatisfied with the discredited politics of those in Westminster.