William Rodgers

William Rodgers was a founding member of the SDP, and is now its Vice-President.

To the west of the Isle of Dogs, a mile or so towards the City of London, a Victorian bridge spans the entrance canal to the Limehouse Basin. Ten years ago, London’s docklands were still largely derelict, and few vehicles passed that way on a Sunday. So there was no problem for the reporters and television crews who blocked the bridge in the pale sunshine of a winter’s afternoon. This was 25 January 1981, and the launch of the manifesto that came to be known as the Limehouse Declaration.

Diary: Party Conference Jamboree

William Rodgers, 25 October 1990

Like Wimbledon and the Proms, the annual ritual of the Party Conferences has been absorbed into our national life. The TUC Congress opens at the end of August, still good for seaside holidays and very much a family event for trade-unionists and their wives. This year the Liberal Democrats followed a fortnight later, swallowed up like every party by the vulgar vastness of Blackpool, as the whole of Northern England arrives to see the Lights. Labour took the third slot, also at Blackpool, and the Conservatives brought matters to a close, at Bournemouth, well into October. There was a time, long ago, when lesser resorts like Margate, Scarborough and Llandudno were on the Conference circuit. But for many years Blackpool and Brighton were alone capable of accommodating the large numbers of delegates, visitors, press, lobbyists and hangers-on. The delegates, often making their first and only visit to Conference, compare notes, touch the hem of their readers’ garments and marvel at it all. They attend fringe meetings with the eagerness of students in the early days of the WEA. But the Conference proceedings remain the set-piece around which the jamboree revolves.

The Road from Brighton Pier

William Rodgers, 26 October 1989

The triumvirate of Attlee, Bevin and Morrison that led Labour through the wartime coalition years and into its most fruitful period of office was representative of the pluralist nature of the Party. Clement Attlee was a Fabian socialist from a middle-class background; Ernest Bevin, born into poverty in rural Somerset, had created the Transport and General Workers Union; and Herbert Morrison, the shop assistant straight out of Mr Polly, had risen to influence through local government in London, including the leadership of the London County Council.

Crisis at Ettrick Bridge

William Rodgers, 12 October 1989

In the General Elections of 1951 and 1955, the Liberal Party won less than 3 per cent of the vote and ended up with six MPs. The party of Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George had joined the political fringe. But by 1974, despite the electoral system and an absence of credibility as a candidate for government, the Party had raised its share of the vote to 19.3 per cent and the number of its MPs to 14. It was clear that the death of Liberal England had been prematurely foretold.

Europe could damage her health

William Rodgers, 6 July 1989

On 28 October 1971 the House of Commons voted, at the end of a six-day debate, on Britain’s entry to the Common Market. There was a majority of 112 in favour, but 131 MPs rebelled against their party leadership, the most dramatic occasion of its kind since the prelude to Chamberlain’s resignation in 1940. On the Opposition benches, 69 Labour MPs defied a heavy three-line whip to vote for entry, and another 20 abstained. Of Conservatives, 39 voted against entry and two abstained. There was also one Liberal rebel.

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