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.


William Rodgers, 30 March 1989

Thirteen years ago, in the late afternoon of an April day, I was summoned across Whitehall from my office in the Ministry of Defence to see the Home Secretary. Roy Jenkins rose from his chair and said: ‘Well, it’s all over, Callaghan is appointing Crosland.’ He nodded to a handwritten envelope addressed to the President of the French Republic. I knew that it contained a letter declaring his willingness to become President of the European community. We talked for a while, and I sadly conceded that my resistance to his departure from British politics was at an end. A little before six o’clock we watched the television news for public confirmation of events. There it was. Anthony Crosland had become Foreign Secretary – the only job that would have kept Roy Jenkins away from Brussels and the Berlaymont.’

William Rodgers reads the papers

William Rodgers, 19 February 1987

Seven miles high above the Bay of Biscay and bound for Madrid, reading the daily papers is the alternative to a British Airways breakfast at noon. What is news? A kiss, it seems. England has won a Test Match and Emburey is conveying his congratulations to Ian Botham. It is front-page news for the Guardian but back-page for the Daily Express. The popular papers have a problem. Myra Hindley and the Moors Murders is a rich story on which to lead, as full of purple prose today as it was twenty years ago. It should be a good day for sales.

The SDP’s Chances

William Rodgers, 23 October 1986

Parliaments divide, with surprising neatness, into distinct phases. A first phase reflects the initial euphoria of a party winning power (or retaining it). A sober middle period is spent getting to grips with real problems. There follows, finally, a collapse into electioneering. The transition from the middle to the final phase is usually the most clearly defined. There is a rush of Members of Parliament declaring their intention to retire. In the House of Commons the Queen’s Speech takes on a subtle edge: the New Legislation Committee has been beavering away for months producing a package of proposals either popular enough to win votes or so prosaic as to be dropped without penalty if Parliament runs out of time. On the direct and specific instructions of Number 10, ministers are preparing executive decisions (money to be spent, promises to be made) that will win friends among the discontented.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences