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1987: David Owen resigns as leader of SDP
The leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Dr David Owen, has resigned after members of his party voted to merge with the Liberals.

In his resignation statement, issued within an hour of the result of the vote being announced, Dr Owen said: "We (the SDP) are now deeply and predictably split."

Nearly 60% of the party, 25,897 members, voted for a full merger with the Liberal party.

Just over 42%, 19,228 members, voted for the second option, which was to create a closer framework with the Liberals, which would have preserved the SDP.

Dr Owen said: "The members have decided, as they have every right to do, to seek a merger with the Liberals against my advice.

Alternative to Thatcherism

"And in the circumstances I do not believe I should continue as their leader during the period of negotiations which will follow."

But Dr Owen does intend to remain in Parliament, as MP for Plymouth Devonport.

Leader of the Liberals David Steel welcomed the vote for a merger and said they would now be able to present "a clear and united alternative to Thatcherism and Socialism".

He said Dr Owen's resignation was "logical but not surprising".

David Owen was a founding member of the SDP when, alongside Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and Bill Rodgers, he defected from the Labour party in 1981.

The "gang of four", as they came to be known, cited major differences over European and defence policies and vowed to "change the mould of British politics."

Dr Owen, who has led the SDP since 1983, said he believed his party would continue to work with the Liberals but would not be drawn on his opinion as to whether the merger would be a success.

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The 'gang of four' - (from left) Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams
David Owen was one of the SDP's founding members


In Context
Almost from the beginning the SDP worked alongside the Liberal party as the unofficial Social Democrat and Liberal Alliance but throughout the 80s policy differences became more obvious.

David Owen was staunchly opposed to an official merger of the two parties and after the creation of the new Social and Liberal Democrat Party (SLD) in 1988 he returned to lead a slimmed-down SDP.

Initially, his move seemed to be well informed. One year after the merger, the SDP pushed the SLD into third place in the Richmond by-election.

But by 1990, everything had gone wrong. The party came seventh out of eight candidates with just 155 votes in the Bootle by-election trailing even the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Within days, David Owen had announced the end of the party that was supposed to break the mould of British politics.

Lord Owen, who stood down as an MP in the 1992 election, is now a cross-bencher concentrating on fighting off attempts to get Britain to sign up to the euro as head of the pressure group New Europe.

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