The Alliance challenge to Labour had been routed in 1987 and many thought having two leaders — Steel and Owen — had not helped. Many too felt that it was logical that the two parties should merge. Continental experience showed that this was not necessarily so. Two separate, but allied, parties could often attract a wider spectrum of voters than one party. However, the longer two parties remained, the more likely they were to start bickering — the more so if they were not as successful as they had hoped. In the 1987 election there had been voters who were put off by Owen’s ‘Thatcherism’.1 Some Owenites suspected the Liberals of being soft on defence and perhaps much else. But a majority in both parties were looking for a merger. David Steel voiced these wishes immediately after the 1987 election without having fully consulted Owen on the matter. However, once it was in the open there was no going back. It took three ‘horrible’2 meetings of the SDP executive before a membership ballot was held which voted by 57.5 per cent in favour of a merger and 42.5 against. Negotiations with the Liberals then followed, after which the SDP was brought to an end with the final ‘loveless’ meeting of the executive. Owen resigned from the leadership before the end, being replaced by Bob Maclennan, who took the majority into the new party — the Social and Liberal Democrats (SLD).
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