Should we get excited by the left-wing ‘anti-woke’ SDP victory in Leeds?

GB News spoke to the leaders of both the Social Democrats and Reform UK about what the local election results mean for their parties

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The Social Democratic Party (SDP) won a council ward last week for the first time since pretty much vanishing from British politics two decades ago.

They picked a seat on Leeds council, after winning there last in 1988.

Bar a mention in the Yorkshire Post, this potentially momentous moment has gone largely unnoticed in the press.

Why does a single council seat matter? It matters because it marks the return of a properly patriotic and “anti-woke”, but fiscally left-wing party, to UK politics.

Until now, the working classes leaving the Labour Party (largely over its embrace of mass immigration and American-style racial and gender politics) have had nowhere to turn other than "right wing" parties led by ideological small-state, former Tories.

“Social conservatism is associated with the right but, in fact, it has a better fit with the traditional patriotic left - which is where the SDP is,” argued William Clouston, the leader of the SDP, speaking to GB News on Monday.

The SDP
The SDP

Arguably, the movement of working-class voters away from centrist and traditionally "left wing" parties has been the defining feature of politics in the UK, and across Europe, for the past decade.

It gave rise to UKIP, the Brexit Party, and Marine Le Pen in France, and acted as a catalyst for Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump in the US, and the fall of Angela Merkel in Germany.

“The SDP’s sister party in Denmark has shown the parties of the moderate left can adapt and offer a very attractive non-woke ‘family, community, nation’ programme,” Clouston added.

Denmark is the only nation where the traditionally left-wing party has moved with the anti-woke, working class vote, instead of against them.

The Social Democrats there have bucked trends and are currently in power.

They adopted a firm line on a wide range of cultural issues, including immigration, pioneering the Rwanda offshore processing plan currently being copied by Priti Patel and Boris Johnson's Conservatives.

In last week's local election, Labour only made significant gains in the capital.

"London is Labour. But more importantly, Labour is now London, seen as the managerial party of the metropolitan professional classes," as Mick Hume, my former boss, wrote in Spiked.

Richard Tice
Richard Tice

The working classes outside London remember Sir Keir Starmer fighting tooth and nail to block their Brexit vote, pushing for ever harsher lockdowns that destroyed their small businesses, and kneeling before the cultural agenda of California's cultural elite.

They aren't suddenly about to start returning to his Labour.

Real ideological choice and genuine political diversity is always good for democracy.

But, in my view, the British SDP is unlikely to emulate the success of their Danish namesakes for the simple reason that Boris Johnson's Tories have already become an economically left-wing party in many ways (see they massive Covid spending, tax rises, and religious odes to the NHS).

The other reason is that Richard Tice, the leader of Reform UK, the UK's only major insurgent political force, is working with them.

Despite being a red-blooded, small state, right-winger, Tice endorsed the SDP candidate in Leeds because he knows his support comes from both the Labour and Tory traditions and Reform must always be a coalition.

Speaking to me for this article, he confirms they will continue to talk to the SDP.

Clouston added: “The SDP has a different economic vision to Reform but there is enough common ground to collaborate.

"Reform endorsed us in the South Yorkshire Mayoral and we have backed them for the forthcoming Wakefield by-election.

"We’re building a good-faith relationship and I hope it will continue.”

But Tice understands two further, critical, things.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Firstly, because of the institutional control the "woke", university class, Labour-aligned left has over state institutions, education, and the civil service in the UK, only a focus on individual liberty and less regulation of our lives and businesses is likely to lead to a less "woke" government and policies in Britain.

And secondly, because of the first-past-the-post system, Reform UK is better understood as the most powerful pressure group and think tank in the UK, not just a political party.

Just as UKIP did for David Cameron, and the Brexit Party did for Theresa May and Boris, it can terrorise the Tories with threats of "splitting the vote" if they stray too far from Tice's vision for the Tory party.

Like Nigel Farage before him, Tice is the most important Tory in the nation not to hold a party membership card.

This understanding of Reform UK rests on an appreciation of the fact that the Tory Party is the greatest coalition of all.

And a politically promiscuous one at that. Boris is a liberal LGBT activist, an anti-immigration hardliner, a pro-business red tape cutter, and big state NHS spender all at once, as he tries to appeal to the young, ageing, rich, and financially struggling.

He is also promiscuous with the truth and many of these promises, and costumes, are utterly incompatible. But until he gets found out, he'll keep winning.

Parties like the SDP, with all-encompassing vision for the UK and grand notions of State and Society, are unlikely to succeed in the UK because they are simply not pragmatic or ruthless enough.

However admiral and thoughtful the SDP makes it seem, their plans essentially mean giving more money and power to Civil Servants and the state.

But right wing “globalist” policies are often unpopular with the working classes, Clouston told me.

“Free trade has gutted our factories and so I’d argue that economic nationalism of the type advocated by the SDP is now a left-wing phenomenon.”

I’m not sure. Donald Trump advocated a form of economic nationalism and Reform has also outspokenly criticised the offshoring of British manufacturing. Protectionist politics are not the preserve of the left.

Tice told me that Reform “puts more money in the pockets [of the working classes] by cutting taxes hard for lower earners and [small and medium-sized enterprises] and self-employed.”

Economists can argue until the cows come home and “trickle down” theory and if high or low tax benefits those at the bottom, but Tice has certainly identified one area of Tory policy that is make the cost of live higher.

“We are the only party who has clear a plan for low energy costs by using shale gas treasure,” he claimed.

The SDP also backs fracking, but Reform’s focus on this issue is cutting through as gas prices surge.

The phrase I wrote in one of Nigel Farage's briefings after the 2019 general election, which he surprisingly went on to use time and time again, was that he was the "gateway drug" for Boris Johnson's voters leaving the Labour Party and eventually turning Tory.

People who had voted Labour for generations couldn't initially turn blue, but could vote for UKIP, who were for a time statistically the most working-class party in the UK.

Nigel led former Labour seats to drift towards UKIP, before voting for Brexit, and then flipping to Boris' Tories to "get Brexit done".

The Tories under "populist" Boris, in turn, have become more working class than ever before.

The SDP may well become a new, widespread gateway drug variety, offering a home for public sector workers and instinctive lefties who can't stand the "woke" agenda, but could never quite bring themselves to back Nigel or Tice. I hope they do.

But ultimately, the destination for disaffected Labour voters is the Tory Party, which will change as its voter base does — because that is what the winning party in UK politics has always done.

Blair made Labour more right-wing, Thatcher made the Tories more working class, and Cameron made the Conservative younger and “greener.”

Boris’ shift to the big state left will come at the expense of small state “Shire Tories,” who left the Conservatives in significant number on Friday.

They lost nearly 500 seats and the Lib Dems where the biggest beneficiaries.

When I asked Tice if he’ll increasingly be targeting this new, floating voter group, he replied simply: “Yes.”