"When some years ago David Owen, one of the SDP’s founders, sent me an early draft of his memoirs, I understood for the first time that he had seen the SDP as essentially doomed — certainly in deep trouble — before I even joined it at the beginning of 1982. What had doomed it, in his view, was the decision to form a tight alliance with the Liberal Party.No-one in the current leadership cadre of the Labour Party, neither left, centrist or right, espouses David Owen's political views - with the possible exception of John Mann.
"Owen’s conception of the SDP, which was formed in 1981, is that it would be a tough-minded, hawkish party of the left. It would appeal to an aspirational working class, particularly in the north, who had tired of bureaucratic socialism and saw the point of Margaret Thatcher, but were not Tories.
"When the future Labour foreign secretary was a student working on a building site he had been struck by the reaction of his fellow workers to the Suez crisis. It had been instinctively nationalist, uninterested in political protocol, and robust. It was these people he wanted the SDP to appeal to.
"Roy Jenkins, former Labour chancellor but also biographer of the Liberal prime minister HH Asquith, wanted a centre party that reflected his own liberal instinct. This would be a southern party of the middle class, disdainful of Thatcher, fastidious rather than bulldog-like on international issues, avowedly centrist.
"Everything about this Jenkins view — the electoral relationship with the Liberals in particular, but also the claret-drinking image — drove Owen crazy. But for all that he later did to shape the party, Owen was right that by 1982 Jenkins had won the battle. The SDP would be a liberal party. It lost almost all its northern and working-class seats, was not able to compete in the south because the Liberal Party took all the best constituencies, and ended up being swallowed up by its partner.
"Owen and Jenkins were rowing over whether liberalism and being a Labour moderate or even a centrist were the same thing. Jenkins felt that practically and philosophically they were. Owen felt that practically and philosophically they were not."
And so they will not reconnect with their millions-strong working class roots.
If Theresa May can find a way to overcome the respectable working class's tribal anti-Toryism, Labour are electoral toast till the end of time.
Blue Labour website and Wikipedia article.