Records of the Beverley and Haltemprice Branch of the Social Democratic Party

Scope and Content

The first instalment of this collection was assembled largely by Jan Hebditch, secretary of the Beverley and Haltemprice Branch of the Social Democratic Party for most of its existence. The first section covers the constituency level and contains some minutes, plus papers relating to membership and recruitment, finance and fund-raising. Section two, covering the regional (i.e. Yorkshire and Humberside Area) level, includes further minutes, financial papers, files relating to the selection of prospective parliamentary candidates, and to the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Council of the Council for Social Democracy). Section three comprises a small selection of local (mainly East Yorkshire) SDP newsletters. The fourth section contains material produced at national level, including copies of SDP constitutions for 1981, 1982 and 1985 [U DSD/4/1-3], conference documents for consultative assemblies and the Council for Social Democracy between 1981 and 1989 [U DSD/4/7-26], followed by other policy and electioneering documents. There is also a small amount of material relating to the re-launched SDP in 1988-1989 [U DSD/4/51-53]. The fifth section comprises published material only, and includes a selection of journals, such as 'The Social Democrat', plus numerous policy pamphlets and leaflets produced primarily under the auspices of the Council for Social Democracy, and including Green and White Papers, and Open Forum Papers. A final, additional file, is a very miscellaneous batch of relevant papers and election material assembled by a former local Party member between 1982 and 1988 [U DSD/6/1]. Overall the papers reflect the national state of the Party during the 1980s, and the perpetual need to raise funds, secure members, and gain publicity. The second instalment is less extensive but also comprises a mixture of local and national material, and publications. The local material concentrates on various local and national elections contested during the 1980s, and includes election literature, accounts, correspondence, newsletters, annotated maps of wards and related canvassing papers. The national material includes agenda for meetings of the Council for Social Democracy, election literature and pamphlets and handbooks on contesting elections and fundraising. Published material includes pamphlets and reports issued mainly by the SDP (including White and Green Papers), the SDP Liberal Alliance and the Tawney Society.

Administrative / Biographical History

On 25 January 1981 Shirley Williams, David Owen, William Rodgers, and Roy Jenkins - leading but disaffected members of the Labour Party - issued their 'Limehouse Declaration' covering the broad aims of the group (soon known as 'The Gang of Four') and announcing the formation of the Council for Social Democracy. The group particularly favoured electoral reform via proportional representation, continued membership of the European Economic Community, multilateral disarmament and a reflationary economic strategy.

The subsequent formation of the Social Democratic Party was announced on 26 March 1981. Initially twelve Labour MPs and nine Peers resigned the Labour Whip to join the new party. Its subsequent history was dominated by relations with the Liberal Party, then led by David Steel MP. In September 1981 the Liberal - SDP Alliance was formed to fight the next general election and to support each other in by-elections. SDP national membership reached 66,000 in October 1981. In November of that year Shirley Williams was the first SDP MP to be formally elected when she won the safe Conservative seat of Crosby, by which time opinion polls were predicting an Alliance victory at the next general election.

In January 1982 the SDP launched their think tank - the Tawney Society - and in March Roy Jenkins won Glasgow Hillhead for the SDP/Alliance. In July Jenkins was elected Party leader, although David Owen led the general election campaign in May 1983. At that election the Alliance won 26% of the votes but only 23 seats, of which just 6 were held by the SDP. Dr Owen formally replaced Jenkins as SDP leader after the election. By-election successes continued during the following Parliament, including Brecon and Radnor in July 1985, but Alliance poll levels start to drift partly owing to the perceived authoritarianism of David Owen, and splits with the Liberals over defence policy during 1986.

A re-launched Alliance enjoyed several stunning by-election successes, including Greenwich (January 1987), but secured only 23% of the vote and 22 seats (including just 5 SDP) at the 1987 general election. Following the election the Liberal leader, David Steel, immediately proposed the merger of the two parties, a call resisted by Owen and most of the SDP MPs. A ballot of SDP members on merger resulted in a 53% vote in favour. Owen resigned as leader on 6 August 1987, and Robert Maclennan took over as caretaker leader. The Party's Council meeting at Portsmouth in September 1987 voted for merger talks with the Liberals - a move opposed by Owen and two other MPs.

In January 1988 special conferences of the two parties formally voted for merger as the Social and Liberal Democrats, but in March Owen retorted with the 'continuing' SDP, which held its own conference in September 1988. The Tawney Society was disbanded in November 1988. Rival SLD and SDP candidates split the anti-Conservative vote at the Richmond by-election in 1989. In February 1989 the membership of the SLD voted in favour of the title Liberal Democrats. After a disastrous showing at the Bootle by-election in May 1990 the continuing SDP decided to cease campaigning as a national party in the following month. David Owen, eventually lost his Plymouth Devonport seat in 1992.


U DSD/1 Beverley and Haltemprice (later North Humberside) SDP

U DSD/2 Yorkshire and Humberside Area SDP

U DSD/3 Local newsletters

U DSD/4 National material

U DSD/5 Printed / published material

U DSD/6 Miscellaneous additional material

U DSD2/1 Local material, 1981 - 1990

U DSD2/2 National material, 1982 - 1988

U DSD2/3 Social Democratic Party library and publications, 1982 - 1986

Access Information

Some of the records in this collection contain sensitive personal information. In accordance with data protection legislation, records containing sensitive personal information are not available for public inspection for 75 years if the information relates to adults, or 100 years if the information relates to children. In some circumstances access may be granted for research purposes. To request access or for further information please contact

Access to all other material will be granted to any accredited reader.

Other Finding Aids

Entry in Modern political papers subject guide

Conditions Governing Use

Liberal Democrats

Custodial History

Donated via Helen Good, Hull

Related Material

Other repositories:

National SDP archives, Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex

Tawney Society archives, Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex

Liberal Party archives, British Library of Political and Economic Science: Archives Division

Constituency records have been deposited in local offices, including Coventry (Coventry Record Office), Devon (Devon Record Office), Dyfed (National Library of Wales, Guildford (Surrey Record Office), Vale of Glamorgan (National Library of Wales)


Cook, Chris and Stevenson, John, 'The Longman Companion to Britain since 1945' (London: Longman, 1996)