The Limehouse Declaration was a statement delivered by rebelling Labour politicians Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers and David Owen ("The Gang of Four") in January 1981. The wording of the declaration was especially critical of the Labour Party, and announced the formation of a new body named the Council for Social Democracy to further the interests of social democracy in British politics. The declaration takes its title from the east London region of the same name, from where the Declaration was announced.
Text of the Declaration
"The progressive decay of the independence of the Labour Party, in the face of increased trade union involvement in all areas of party policy and mechanism, has culminated in a catastrophic Wembley conference. As a result of this conference, the leadership of the Labour Party is now to be decided by a handful of trade union leaders in a smoke-filled room. This is the final straw for a party which has been set on this course for the last twenty years. From the actions of the militant tendency, to the accusations of corruption from former Labour MPs such as Milne (1976) – it is now apparent that Labour is no longer a party committed to parliamentary government.
In light of these changes, we propose in this document to begin a new force in the British polity. Ours will be a Council of Social Democracy – with a commitment to rally and represent all Britons who still hold the aforementioned principle of social democracy.
Ours will aim to create a society where no Briton will suffer discrimination based on issues of gender, race, religion, disability or sexuality.
Ours will support a radical change within society – but only with a sense of direction and stability applied, of which there is a lack in the extreme agenda’s of the two established political parties.
Ours will build a caring society which focuses on the power of the individual within the community. Ours will focus on a strong public sector and a strong private sector, working together to deliver the best for Britain.
Ours, with the previous goal in mind, supports an economy which gives equal support to both the public sector and the private sector – without the frequent frontier changes based on whether the far-left or far-right political party is in power at the time. Ours will favour competitive public enterprise, co-operative ventures and profit sharing. Ours will also seek the complete elimination of poverty within Britain, without hindering free enterprise with bureaucracy imposed from the centre. Britain must harness the strength of a competitive economy, whilst ensuring a fair distribution of its rewards.
Ours wishes to see decentralisation brought to the British political system – with a special focus on how decisions are made in both industrial and governmental issues. This must be combined with efficient and practical democracy from local councils through to Westminster.
Ours does not believe that the mass unemployment we find in modern Britain is an acceptable or inevitable circumstance when pursuing economic reform. The examples set by nations such as Norway and Switzerland show that it is possible to combine social democratic government, low inflation, and high employment.
Ours will strive for Britain to be shed of all isolationist and xenophobic attitudes towards the management of our nations foreign affairs. Hence, we support Britain’s responsibilities within the European Economic Community, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the United Nations, and the Commonwealth. Ours will commit Britain to become a constructive and progressive force within these trans-national bodies – in order to meet the challenges faced by the modern global community, such as arms control and third world poverty. We whole-heartedly reject the isolationist tendencies which dominate the Labour Party today.
Ours shall be the Social Democratic Party (SDP). This new organisation has already received the support of a number of notable figures within Labour party politics, a list of whom will be endorsed at an early date. Our body has support of some who were previously engaged in Labour politics, but were disaffected by the aforementioned decay of Labour’s values in relation to social democracy. However, ours also reaches out to those who are outside party politics, and those who believe that Britain cannot be reformed successfully within the sterile and rigid political framework established by the present duopoly of major parties.
This declaration signifies the re-emergence of social democracy in Great Britain, and the advent of three-party politics in the modern era. As former Labour party members, we can appreciate that the decision which lies ahead for members of Labour may prove to be deeply painful and agonising. Yet with bravery, knowledge and courage, the requirement for a realignment within British politics must now be faced."
The Limehouse Declaration was widely attacked by Labour MP's. BBC journalist Robin Day stated that most of the remaining Labour parliamentary party were "already decrying the four, branding them traitors and calling for their immediate expulsion from the party", before noting that "others are taking a more sympathetic tone".
The Daily Mirror newspaper was especially critical, stating that "their 'Limehouse declaration' reads as if it were drafted at Conservative Central Office." - before lambasting the Gang of Four as "buffoons", "villains" and "self absorbed". These particular comments drew the ire of David Pressman, who in a reply to the Daily Mirror's article claimed that the "brevity" and "thinly veiled insult" of said piece was "a dis-service to the usual high standards of Daily Mirror journalism" and "unfair on your [The Daily Mirror's] loyal readership".
A more sympathetic tone was forthcoming from The Guardian, who stated that "The Limehouse Declaration contained many principles with which this newspaper profoundly agrees." Also, former Conservative leadership candidate Vincent Garton said that "they (The Council for Social Democracy) will, if they can play their cards correctly, be able to supplant Labour, which would be a victory for centrism."