David Anthony Llewellyn Owen, Baron Owen, CH, PC, M.D. (born July 2, 1938), is a British politician. In 1981 he was one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party, and was its leader from 1983 to 1987, and of the reformed SDP between 1988 and 1990. He was also the youngest person to hold the post of Foreign Secretary (1977-1979) for over forty years. For much of his career he has been a controversial figure, inspiring great devotion among a few close followers, but alienation among many others for perceived arrogance. Owen is married to Debbie, an American literary agent.
Labour MP and Government Minister
Owen trained as a doctor at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge before becoming MP for Sutton in 1966 for the Labour Party. He later moved to Devonport in February 1974 serving the seat until 1992. Originally he had taken Devonport slimly from Tory incumbent Dame Joan Vickers , and held onto the seat narrowly in 1979 by just over a thousand votes. In later years however, he developed a large personal following in the constituency owing to his national standing in the Social Democratic Party and was re-elected by safe margains.
Owen served as Minister of State for the Navy from 1968 to 1970 in the Harold Wilson government. In 1970, the Labour party became the opposition party and Owen was appointed as a Defence spokesman, a post he held until 1973. The Labour party regained government in February 1974 and consequently, Owen was appointed as Minister of State for Health, a post he held until James Callaghan became Prime Minister in 1976.
After the sudden death of Anthony Crosland in 1977, Owen was appointed as Foreign Secretary. At the age of 38 he was the youngest Foreign Secretary since Anthony Eden was appointed to the post in 1935; For this reason, Owen came to be associated with youthful dynamism. In 1979, the Labour party lost power and the following year staunch left winger Michael Foot won election as party leader sparking a crisis in the moderate wing of the party over what to do.
Social Democratic Party and Alliance
Along with Shirley Williams, William Rodgers and Roy Jenkins he formed what is known as the Gang of Four, a collection of the leading lights of the moderate wing of the Labour Party, and announced in the so-called Limehouse Declaration in early 1981 that they would brake away from the party and found the Social Democratic Party. The party went on to attract a total of 28 Labour MPs to the party as well as one Conservative MP and a smattering of by-election victories.
In late 1981, the SDP formed the Alliance with the Liberal Party for electoral purposes. In the 1983 General Election, the Alliance did not do as well as many had expected: despite gaining 25% of the popular vote it only won 23 seats out of 650 seats. SDP Leader Roy Jenkins lost his Glasgow constituency and Owen succeeded to the leadership without contest.
Whilst an effective Parliamentary performer, Owen was not able to capitalise on the good terms that Jenkins had enjoyed whilst leader: A far left Labour party and an at times deeply unpopular government. In the 1987 General Election the Alliance suffered yet another bad poll performance and in fact lost one seat.
In 1988, David Steel, the Liberal leader openly suggested a full merger of the two parties; after plotting for many months at least with supporters of such a merger in both Alliance parties: Owen outright rejected this notion, but ultimately his own party membership backed the idea. Owen continued the SDP in a reconstituted rump, often referred to as the Owenite rump of a total of 3 MPs, the majority of the SDP having gone to the Liberal Democrats. The party struggled on until 1990, polling well in the Richmond by-election, however after a string of bad election results, Owen announced the winding up of the party.
Owen served as an independent for the remainder of his term in Parliament, and was appointed to a life peerage on 30 June, 1992 as Baron Owen of the City of Plymouth after the 1992 general election. During the General election, Owen had endorsed John Major and had indicated he would be willing to serve in Major's cabinet, but not to join the Conservative Party.
He went on to become joint author of the Vance-Owen Peace Plan to settle the conflict in Bosnia in 1992, but its failure, and accusations of being an apologist for genocide led to his forced resignation in 1995.
He is now leader of the No Campaign which campaigns against British membership of the Euro, pursuant to his life peerage sits in the House of Lords as a crossbencher. He has been appointed as a Companion of Honour by The Queen for his service to government in Britain.
On August 17, 2003, just after Idi Amin's death, Lord Owen told an interviewer for BBC Radio 4 that while he was Foreign Secretary he had suggested the assassination of Amin to his cabinet colleagues in order to end his terror regime. His proposal was seen as an outrageous suggestion and rejected. Owen said "Amin's regime was the worst of all. It's a shame that we allowed him to keep in power for so long."
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The Lord Carrington