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Social Democrat Party Election Broadcast (22 May 1987)

Main image of Social Democrat Party Election Broadcast (22 May 1987)
Tx. 22/5/1987, 8 mins, colour
SponsorThe Social Democrat Party

With: Rosie Barnes

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A profile of SDP MP Rosie Barnes.

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The Social Democratic Party was created in 1981 by Labour members who felt their party had gone too far to the left. For a time, in alliance with the Liberals, the SDP was more popular than Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives and Michael Foot's Labour, and in the 1983 election nearly won more votes than the latter. Under Neil Kinnock, Labour slowly returned to the centre ground, undermining much of the rationale for the SDP. In the run-up to the 1987 election the SDP-Liberal Alliance languished in third place in the opinion polls.

However, in a February 1987 by-election in Greenwich the constituency party, in a challenge to Kinnock's attempts to moderate his party, selected a candidate who was branded a 'loony lefty' in the Conservative-leaning tabloid press. The press took up SDP candidate Rosie Barnes, who comfortably won the by-election. SDP leader David Owen wrote in his memoirs that, in Barnes, "we had at last absolutely the right image for the SDP". Barnes had never been a member of any other party, lived in the constituency, and was a wife and mother of school-age children: such was her approachable, mumsy image that she was embraced as simply 'Rosie'. Barnes seemed in touch with ordinary voters' concerns, and her victory gave the SDP some hope for the forthcoming general election.

This 1987 Party Election Broadcast is composed of sections intended for incorporation into other broadcasts, hence it's sometimes fragmented nature. Those charged with producing the Alliance's four broadcasts thought Barnes came across, as Owen recalled, "so appealingly and with such freshness with her daughter and the family rabbit" that she was worthy of a PEB all to herself. However the soft-focus camera work and Barnes' apparent naivety evidently annoyed the more serious-minded party activists: in trying to exploit her non-partisan appeal, some felt the Alliance had gone too far. However, this is an interesting example of a political party trying to connect with that increasing number of voters with little interest in politics and weak affiliations to any one party.

The 1987 election confirmed that the Alliance had lost ground since 1983 and the Liberals and SDP merged in an attempt to revive their fortunes: Owen and a few loyalists, including Barnes, opposed the merger. Barnes contested the 1992 election as an Independent Social Democrat but lost her seat to a Labour candidate more in keeping with Neil Kinnock's 'modernising' strategy.

Steven Fielding

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Video Clips
Complete broadcast (8:04)
Party Election Broadcasts