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The gang of four, clockwise; Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins, Bill Rodgers, David Owen

In UK politics, the Gang of Four was a breakaway group of four Labour politicians who founded the Social Democratic Party in 1981,[1] including two sitting Labour MPs and a former deputy leader of the party.

The term Gang of Four is a reference to the political faction of four Chinese Communist Party officials who came to prominence during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) and were accused of attempting to seize power following the death of Mao Zedong.[2]


Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen[3] proposed a group called the Council for Social Democracy which ended up becoming the Social Democratic Party.[1] Their first public move was the Limehouse Declaration, named after the house in Limehouse where David Owen lived and where the group met.[4]

The Gang of Four were followed by a score of other Labour MPs.[5]

The Gang of Four

Portrait Constituency Previous Office(s)
Roy Jenkins
Roy Jenkins 1977b.jpg
Glasgow Hillhead from 1982 Deputy Leader of the Labour Party (1970–1972)
Chancellor of the Exchequer (1967–1970)
Home Secretary (1965–1967, 1974–1976)
Minister of Aviation (1964–1965)
David Owen
David Owen-1.jpg
Plymouth Devonport Foreign Secretary (1977–1979)
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (1976–1977)
Minister of State for Health and Social Security (1974–1976)
Under-Secretary of State for the Navy (1968–1970)
Bill Rodgers
Official portrait of Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank crop 2.jpg
Stockton-on-Tees Transport Secretary (1976–1979)
Minister of State for Defence (1974–1976)
Minister of State for the Treasury (1969–1970)
Minister of State for Trade (1968–1969)
Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (1964–1967)
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1967–1968)
Shirley Williams
Shirley Williams, 1984.jpg
Crosby from November 1981 Education Secretary and Paymaster General (1976–1979)
Prices and Consumer Secretary (1974–1976)
Minister of State of Home Affairs (1969–1970)
Minister of State for Education and Science (1967–1969)
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Housing and Local Government (1966–1967)

Views and legacy

In March 2017, the three then-living members of the SDP Gang of Four all said Jeremy Corbyn should step down as leader before the next general election originally scheduled for 2020 under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. In the 2017 general election, Labour under Corbyn again finished as the second-largest party in parliament, but the party increased their share of the popular vote to 40%, resulting in a net gain of 30 seats and a hung parliament.[6]

In 2019, The Independent Group were described as similar to the Gang of Four,[7] which was backed by Bill Rodgers.[8]


  1. ^ a b Scott, Jennifer (18 February 2019). "Who were the Social Democratic Party?". BBC. Archived from the original on 18 February 2019. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  2. ^ Howse, Christopher (26 January 2006). "Can anyone explain? The Gang of Four". Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  3. ^ Capurro, Daniel (18 February 2019). "Labour has split before, and the SDP kept the Conservatives in power for 18 years". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 18 February 2019. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  4. ^ Ley, Shaun (12 January 2011). "The legacy of the SDP's Gang of Four". BBC. Archived from the original on 2 June 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  5. ^ Norpoth, Helmut (1992). Confidence Regained: Economics, Mrs. Thatcher, and the British Voter. University of Michigan Press. p. 226. ISBN 9780472103331. Retrieved 19 February 2019. It is by no means necessary to assume that those in the mass electorate who followed the lead of the "Gang of Four" and the score of other former Labour MPs shared their policy views.
  6. ^ "Gang of Four on Jeremy Corbyn". 9 March 2017. Archived from the original on 18 March 2018. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  7. ^ Bush, Stephen (18 February 2019). "Does the Independent Group want to replace Labour, or be something else entirely?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  8. ^ Taylor, Harry (18 February 2019). "Highgate's 'gang of four' member Bill Rodgers backs seven MPs quitting Labour to form The Independent Group". Hampstead Highgate Express. Retrieved 19 February 2019.