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Did the SDP really split the left in 1983?

To understand the gang of seven’s chance of success it’s important to get the history right

By Matt Singh  

The gang of four Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen. Photo: PA Images/PA Archive/PA Images

This week’s move by seven Labour MPs to quit the party will no doubt evoke memories of the Labour-SDP split in 1981 which, it has often been claimed, gifted Margaret Thatcher her landslide at the next general election.

The rationale for this theory is intuitive, since the gang of four, and every subsequent defector bar one came from Labour. Moreover, the changes in the popular vote between 1979 and 1983 look a lot like they would if…

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