Social Democratic Party (UK, 1990–present)

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) is a centrist political party in the United Kingdom established in 1990. Ideologically, the SDP combines social conservatism with centre-left economics and support for a social market economy. It has been led by William Clouston since 2018.

Social Democratic Party
LeaderWilliam Clouston
Preceded bySocial Democratic Party (1988)
Headquarters272 Bath Street
G2 4JR
Youth wingYoung Social Democrats (YSD)
Political positionFiscal: Centre-left
Social: Centre-right
Colours  Red   Blue
Slogan"Family, Community, Nation"
Local government
0 / 20,270

The current party traces its origin to the Social Democratic Party which was formed in 1981 by a group of dissident Labour Party Members of Parliament (MPs) and former MPs Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams, who became known as the Gang of Four. The original SDP merged with the Liberal Party in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats, but Owen, two other MPs and a minority of party activists formed a breakaway group also called the Social Democratic Party immediately afterwards. That continuing party dissolved itself in 1990, but activists met and voted to continue the party in defiance of its National Executive, leading to the creation of the current Social Democratic Party.

In 2019 the SDP gained its first and only European parliamentarian when Patrick O'Flynn, Member of the European Parliament for East of England, defected to the SDP from the UK Independence Party in November 2018.[1] Prominent members include journalists Rod Liddle and Giles Fraser.[2][3]



The second incarnation of the Social Democratic Party, often referred to as "the continuing SDP", decided to dissolve itself after a disastrous result in the May 1990 Bootle by-election. However, a number of SDP activists met and voted to continue the party in defiance of the National Executive. The continuing group was led by Jack Holmes, who by polling fewer votes than the Official Monster Raving Loony Party at the Bootle by-election had caused the party's end. The much-reduced SDP decided to fight the 1991 Neath by-election. With Holmes serving as the party's election agent, the SDP candidate finished fifth with 5.3% of the vote—only 174 votes behind the fourth-placed Liberal Democrats, although the SDP candidate joined the Lib Dems shortly thereafter.[4] The party subsequently won a number of seats on the Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council.

Early years (1992–2008)

In 1992, the SDP had concentrated on campaigning at local level, holding a few council seats in Yorkshire and South Wales. Bridlington Central and Old Town ward on East Riding of Yorkshire Council remained a hotspot of SDP activity, with Ray Allerston holding a council seat there from 1987. From 2003 to 2007, he was joined by his wife Christine Allerston.[5] Meanwhile, Tony Pelton and Brian Smith were elected in 1999 in Tunstall Ward in Richmondshire. A third hotspot consisted of SDP councillors Jeff Dinham, John Sullivan and Anthony Taylor in Aberavon Ward, Neath Port Talbot.

In the 2003 elections, Tony Pelton was re-elected, but Brian Smith was not. In 2005, Christine Allerston became Mayor of Bridlington for a year; however, she stood down before the 2007 local elections in which her husband Ray Allerston was re-elected and made Mayor and David Metcalf picked up the vacant seat. All three Aberavon councillors remained in place, with Anthony Taylor becoming local mayor. However, Tony Pelton in Tunstall stood down before the 2007 locals, ending SDP representation there. Jackie Foster was elected to Bridlington town council in 2008.

Subsequent years (2009–2017)

In 2012, Councillors Dinham and Sullivan lost their seats in Aberavon, leaving only Anthony Taylor in position. David Metcalf stepped down in early 2014, owing to ill-health. He died soon afterward. This left just Allerston, Foster and Taylor in post. Ray Allerston died on 16 September 2014.[6][7] A by-election was held in his ward on 27 November which was won by the UK Independence Party (UKIP).[8]

The SDP fielded two candidates in the 2015 general election. Jackie Foster remained an SDP councillor on Bridlington Town Council after the 2015 local elections,[9] but as of 2016 was listed as a Labour councillor.[9] Until May 2017, Anthony Taylor sat on Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council as an independent democrat,[10] but remained listed on the party website as an SDP councillor.[11]

Solihull's Green Party councillor Mike Sheriden defected to the SDP in August 2015.[12] However, Sheriden lost his seat when he stood for re-election in May 2016.

Six SDP candidates stood in the 2017 general election: one in Glasgow East and five in Sheffield constituencies.[13] The SDP candidates received a total of 469 votes.[14] According to accounts filed with the Electoral Commission, in 2017 the party—before its present growth—had a total income of £2,095.[15]

Growth, new leadership and new declaration (2018–present)

In January 2018, Kevin Hickson, former leader of Crewe Town Council, joined the SDP.[16] In an article published in the Crewe Chronicle,[citation needed] Hickson, who represented Crewe East on the town council, stated that he left Labour because of growing unease with that party's "almost daily changes" on Brexit policy. He went on to say that the SDP "combines centre left policies on the economy and the welfare state with a firm commitment to implement the will of the people on Brexit, reclaiming sovereignty over money, laws, borders and trade". Hickson is a senior lecturer in Politics at the University of Liverpool[17] and a former Labour parliamentary candidate. Hickson became the party chairman, until being replaced by Paula Watson in January 2020.

William Clouston became leader of the SDP in 2018, and was re-elected by 89% of ballots returned by members in March 2020.[18] He was a member of the original party in the 1980s and remained with the continuing SDP after the merger with the Liberal Party.

In October 2018, the party published a New Declaration of aims and values, whose name recalls the original Limehouse Declaration of 1981 and which the party describes as putting the principles of social democracy in a modern setting. The declaration calls for a "communitarian, social democratic nation-state".

Patrick O'Flynn, Member of the European Parliament for East of England, defected from the UK Independence Party (UKIP) to join the SDP in November 2018.[1] He cited UKIP leader Gerard Batten's appointment of Tommy Robinson as an adviser as a key reason for his departure from the party.[14] O'Flynn became the first MEP affiliated to the current-day SDP. In April 2019, O'Flynn stated that the SDP would not be standing in the 2019 European Parliament election.[19]

In March 2019, prominent political journalists Rod Liddle and Giles Fraser announced that they had joined the party.[2][3]


The SDP is a syncretic political party which combines centre-left economics with centre-right stances on social and cultural values. The party formally declared its principles in its "New Declaration" of October 2018.[20]


The SDP's orientation is Eurosceptic. Whilst a majority of the founders of the original SDP in 1981 were pro-EC, the continuing SDP voted against the concept of a United States of Europe at its conference at Scarborough in 1989 and the 1990 party's Eurosceptic position developed from there. In March 2019, the party advocated the UK leaving the European Union on WTO terms in the absence of a better deal on offer.[21] As of November 2019 the party supports the latest iteration of the withdrawal agreement.[22]

Economy and welfare

The SDP is a centre/centre-left movement advocating a social market economy. It balances a commitment to enterprise and the market with support for greater progressivity in the tax code, substantial increases in the council housing stock, protection of legal aid, changes to the roll out of Universal Credit and renationalising the railways as existing contracts expire.[23]

Foreign affairs and defence

The SDP supports marginal reductions in aid spending, in its view made possible by more effective use of the aid budget. It proposes that the Department for International Development be absorbed into a new Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which would ensure a greater alignment of aid and UK foreign policy interests. The SDP has criticised past UK efforts to "impose liberal democracy on complex societies in the Middle East".[23]

The SDP supports NATO and maintaining a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence. It would maintain and update Britain's nuclear deterrent and increase the size of the UK armed forces. It would complete the aircraft carrier programme and related air and naval investment to make and keep HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales fully operational. It supports increased spending on Intelligence to combat terrorism and cyber-warfare as a proportion of the overall defence budget. For veterans, it would increase their housing priority and create tax incentives for business to employ veterans.[23]

Social issues and immigration

The SDP believes the tax and benefits system should offer "greater protection and support for family life". Couples raising children together (comprising a basic rate tax payer and a non tax payer) would benefit from full sharing of tax allowances under the party's proposals. Moreover, government policy in all domains would be subject to a basic test as to "whether it is supportive of the family as the fundamental foundation of society".[23]

The party advocates a points based immigration system and wants to contain net immigration to fewer than 100,000 per year. In addition, it wants to introduce an annual cap on gross immigration.[23]


  • Jack Holmes (1990–1991)
  • John Bates (1991–2008)
  • Peter Johnson (2008–2018)
  • William Clouston (2018–present)

Westminster General elections

Election Seats ± Candidates Total votes  % Government
0 / 651
8 6,649 0.1% No seats
0 / 659
2 1,246 0.0% No seats
0 / 650
2 1,551 0.0% No seats
0 / 650
2 125 0.0% No seats
0 / 650
6 469 0.0% No seats
0 / 650
20[27] 3,295[28] 0.0% No seats

Scottish Parliament elections

Year Regional Vote Constituency Vote Overall Seats Change
2021 405 votes 0.0%
0 / 56
0 / 73
0 / 129
New Party

London Assembly elections

Year Regional Vote Constituency Vote Overall Seats Change
2021 7,782 votes 0.3%
0 / 11
0 / 14
0 / 25
New Party


  1. "East of England MEP Patrick O'Flynn quits UKIP". ITV News. 27 November 2018. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  2. "Why I've joined the SDP (and why you should, too)". The Spectator. 14 March 2019.
  3. Fraser, Giles (14 March 2019). "Turned off the news in disgust. Can't watch how useless our politicians are any more. Applied to join the @TheSDPUK. Feel a lot better already".
  4. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on January 5, 2006. Retrieved November 28, 2005.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. "Bridlington Central and Old Town Ward — East Riding". Local Elections Archive Project. Andrew Teale. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 27, 2014. Retrieved February 7, 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. "Former Bridlington mayor Ray Allerston dies".
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 4, 2014. Retrieved 7 February 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. "Councillors – Bridlington Town Council". Archived from the original on 2015-02-07. Retrieved 2015-02-07.
  10. "Councillor details - Councillor Anthony Taylor: NPT CBC".
  11. "Councillors". Retrieved 2017-12-27.
  12. Annette Belcher (2015-08-17). "Solihull Green Party's first councillor defects". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 2017-12-27.
  13. "Social Democratic Party candidates in the 2017 General Election". Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  14. Stone, Jon (27 November 2018). "Ukip MEP Patrick O'Flynn quits party in protest at growing Tommy Robinson links". The Independent. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  15. "Statement of Accounts (Yearly), 2017 Party name: Social Democratic Party". Electoral Commission. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  16. http://www.sdpuk.nationbuilder/kevin_hickson [bare URL]
  17. "Kevin Hickson". University of Liverpool. 2013-02-18. Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  18. SDP Leadership Election Result (13 March 2020) SDP Party Secretary
  19. "09/04/2019". Newsnight. BBC2. 9 April 2019. "As a representative of the SDP, a party that's not contesting the European elections [...]".
  20. SDP. "New Declaration". SDP.
  21. "Brexit".
  22. William Clouston on LBC, 18 November 2019
  24. "BBC Election 2010 Results". Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  25. Election 2015: The Results and Tables, Rallings, Thrasher & Borisyuk, University of Plymouth
  26. "Election 2017 Results". BBC News. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  27. Renfree, Lisa (15 November 2019). "Social Democrats Largest Field of Candidates since 1987". SDP.
  28. BBC News 2019 election results