|The Right Honourable
The Lord Owen
CH PC FRCP MB BChir
|Leader of the Social Democratic Party|
3 March 1988 – 6 June 1990
|Preceded by||Robert Maclennan|
|Succeeded by||Office abolished|
21 June 1983 – 6 August 1987
|Preceded by||Roy Jenkins|
|Succeeded by||Robert Maclennan|
|Shadow Secretary of State for Energy|
4 May 1979 – 4 November 1980
|Preceded by||Tom King|
|Succeeded by||Merlyn Rees|
|Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs|
21 February 1977 – 4 May 1979
|Prime Minister||James Callaghan|
|Preceded by||Anthony Crosland|
|Succeeded by||The Lord Carrington|
|Member of Parliament
for Plymouth Devonport
28 February 1974 – 9 April 1992
|Preceded by||Joan Vickers|
|Succeeded by||David Jamieson|
|Member of Parliament
for Plymouth Sutton
31 March 1966 – 28 February 1974
|Preceded by||Ian Montagu Fraser|
|Succeeded by||Alan Clark|
2 July 1938 |
|Political party||Independent (1990–present)|
Social Democratic (1981–1990)
|Alma mater||Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
King's College London
Owen served as British Foreign Secretary from 1977 to 1979, the youngest person in over forty years to hold the post. In 1981, Owen was one of the "Gang of Four" who left the Labour Party to found the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Owen led the SDP from 1983 to 1987, and the continuing SDP from 1988 to 1990. He sits in the House of Lords as a crossbencher.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Social Democratic Party and Liberal-SDP Alliance
- 3 Subsequent international role
- 4 Enterprises and affiliations
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Selected publications
- 7 References
- 8 External links
In the course of his career, Owen has held, and resigned from, a number of senior posts. He first quit as Labour's spokesman on defence in 1972 in protest at the Labour leader Harold Wilson's attitude to the EEC; he left the Labour Shadow cabinet over the same issue later; and over unilateral disarmament in November 1980 when Michael Foot became Labour leader. He resigned from the Labour Party when it rejected one member, one vote in February 1981 and later as Leader of the Social Democratic Party, which he had helped to found, after the party's rank-and-file membership voted to merge with the Liberal Party.
Owen was born in 1938 to Welsh parents in the town of Plympton, beside Plymouth, in Devon, England. He also has Swiss and Irish ancestry. After schooling at Mount House School, Tavistock, and Bradfield College, Berkshire, he was admitted to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1956 to study medicine. Owen obtained a 2:2 and was made an Honorary Fellow of the college in 1977. He began clinical training at St Thomas's Hospital in October 1959.
Owen was deeply affected by the Suez crisis of 1956, when Anthony Eden's Conservative government launched a military operation to retrieve the Suez Canal from Nasser's decision to nationalise it. At the time, aged 18, he was working on a labouring job before going to Cambridge.
The Rt. Hon Lord Owen was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Plymouth University in 1992.
Medicine and politics
In 1960, Owen joined the Vauxhall branch of the Labour Party and the Fabian Society. He qualified as a doctor in 1962 and began work at St Thomas's Hospital. In 1964, he contested the Torrington seat as the Labour candidate against the Conservative Party incumbent, losing in what was a traditional Conservative-Liberal marginal. He was neurology and psychiatric registrar at St Thomas's Hospital for two years, as assistant to Dr. William Sargant, then Research Fellow on the Medical Unit doing research into Parkinsonian trauma and neuropharmacology.
Member of Parliament
At the next general election, in 1966, Owen returned to his home town and was elected Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for the Plymouth Sutton constituency. In the February 1974 general election Owen became Labour MP for the adjacent Plymouth Devonport constituency, winning it from the Conservative incumbent Dame Joan Vickers by a slim margin (fewer than 500 votes). He managed to hold on to it in the 1979 general election, again by a narrow margin (1001 votes). From 1981, however, his involvement with the SDP meant he developed a large personal following in the constituency and thereafter he was re-elected as an SDP candidate with safe margins. He remained as MP for Plymouth Devonport until his elevation to a peerage in 1992.
From 1968 to 1970, Owen served as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Navy in Harold Wilson's first government. After Labour's defeat in the 1970 General Election, he became the party's Junior Defence Spokesman until 1972 when he resigned with Roy Jenkins over Labour's opposition to the European Community. On Labour's return to government in March 1974, he became Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health before being promoted to Minister of State for Health in July 1974.
In September 1976, Owen was appointed by the new Prime Minister of five months, James Callaghan, as a Minister of State at the Foreign Office and was consequently admitted to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. Five months later, however, the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Crosland died suddenly and Owen was appointed his successor. Aged thirty eight, he became the youngest Foreign Secretary since Anthony Eden in 1935 and was seen as the youthful dynamic face of Labour's next generation.
As Foreign Secretary, Owen was identified with the Anglo-American plan for then-Rhodesia, which formed the basis for the Lancaster House Agreement, negotiated by his Tory successor, Lord Carrington in December 1979. The Contact Group sponsored UN Resolution 435 in 1978 on which Namibia moved to independence twelve years later. He wrote a book entitled Human Rights and championed that cause in Africa and in the Soviet Union. He has admitted to at one stage contemplating the assassination of Idi Amin while Foreign Secretary but settled instead to backing with money for arms purchases to President Nyerere of Tanzania in his armed attack on Uganda which led to the exile of Amin to Saudi Arabia.
However, 18 months after Labour lost power in 1979, the staunchly left-wing politician Michael Foot was elected party leader, despite vocal opposition from Labour Party moderates (including Owen), sparking a crisis over the party's future.
Social Democratic Party and Liberal-SDP Alliance
Michael Foot's election as Labour party leader indicated that the party was likely to become more left-wing, and in 1980 committed itself to withdrawing from the EEC without even a referendum (as Labour had carried out in 1975). Also, Labour endorsed unilateral nuclear disarmament and introduced an electoral college, for leadership elections, with 40% of the college going to a block vote of the trade unions. Early in 1981, Owen and three other senior moderate Labour politicians – Roy Jenkins, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams – announced their intention to break away from the Labour Party to form a "Council for Social Democracy". The announcement became known as the Limehouse Declaration and the four as the "Gang of Four". The council they formed became the Social Democratic Party (SDP), with a collective leadership.
Twenty-eight other Labour MPs and one Conservative MP (Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler) joined the new party. In late 1981, the SDP formed the SDP-Liberal Alliance with the Liberal Party to strengthen both parties' chances in the UK's "first past the post" electoral system. In 1982, uneasy about the Alliance, Owen challenged Jenkins for the leadership of the SDP, but was defeated by 26,256 votes to 20,864. In the following year's General Election, the Alliance gained 25% of the vote, only slightly behind the Labour Party, but because of the first-past-the-post voting system, it won only 23 out of 650 seats. Although elected, Jenkins resigned the SDP leadership and Owen succeeded to it without a contest among the 6 remaining SDP MPs.
Ironically, it had been the success of the Falkland War, which had put paid to any hopes that the SDP might have had of winning the 1983 election. Many of the opinion polls in late 1981 and early 1982 had shown the SDP with a comfortable lead over the Tories, who were proving unpopular largely due to high unemployment and the early 1980s recession and ahead of the Labour Party whose democratic-socialist policies were driving away moderate voters. However, Britain's success in the conflict saw Margaret Thatcher and her Tory government surge back to the top of the opinion polls, and her position was stengthened further by the end of the year as the recession ended and more voters had faith in her economic policies. 
Owen is widely regarded as having been, at the very least, a competent party Leader. He had high popularity ratings throughout his leadership as did the SDP-Liberal Alliance. He succeeded in keeping the Party in the public eye and in maintaining its independence from the Liberals for the length of the 1983 Parliament. Moreover, under him, the SDP increased its representation from 6 to 8 seats via the by-election victories of Mike Hancock, at Portsmouth South (1984), and Rosie Barnes, at Greenwich (1987).
However the progress of the SDP-Liberal Alliance as a whole was hampered with policy splits between the two parties, first over the miners' strike (1984–85) where Owen and most of the SDP favoured a fairly tough line but the Liberals preferred compromise and negotiation. More significantly the Alliance had a dispute over the future of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. Here Owen and the SDP favoured replacing of Polaris with Trident as a matter of some importance, where most Liberals were either indifferent to the issue or committed disarmers. The SDP favoured a radical social market economy, whilst the Liberals mostly favoured a more interventionist, corporate style approach. The cumulative effect of these divisions was to make the Alliance appear less credible as a potential government in the eyes of the electorate.
Moreover, Owen, unlike Jenkins, faced an increasingly moderate Labour Party under Neil Kinnock and a dynamic Conservative government. The 1987 general election was as disappointing for the Alliance as the 1983 election and it lost one seat. Nevertheless, it won over 23% of the vote - at that time, the second largest third force vote in British politics since 1929.
Full parties' merger
In 1987 immediately after the election, the Liberal leader David Steel proposed a full merger of the Liberal and SDP parties and was supported for the SDP by Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers. Owen rejected this notion outright, on the grounds that he and other Social Democrats wished to remain faithful to social democracy as it was practised within Western Europe, and it was unlikely that any merged party would be able to do this, even if it was under his leadership. Nevertheless the majority of the SDP membership supported the merger.
The Liberal Party and SDP merged to form the Social and Liberal Democrats (SLD), soon renamed the Liberal Democrats.
At the request of two of the remaining SDP MPs, John Cartwright and Rosie Barnes, Owen continued to lead a much smaller continuing SDP with three MPs in total. The party polled well at its first election, its candidate coming a close second in the 1989 Richmond by-election, but thereafter a string of poor and ultimately disastrous by-election results followed, including coming behind the Official Monster Raving Loony Party in the Bootle by-election of May 1990, prompting Owen to wind up the party in 1990. Owen blamed the SDP's demise on the reforms which had been taking place in the Labour Party since the election of Neil Kinnock as leader in 1983.
Lord Holme later blamed Owen for the Alliance's failure to make a breakthrough at the 1987 general election, believing that a merged party would have performed much better and possibly gained more votes and seats than Labour.
Political allegiances as a life peer
After winding up the re-formed SDP, Owen announced his intent to stand down as an MP at the next General Election. He then served the remainder of his term as an independent MP and after the 1992 General Election was made a life peer with the title "Baron Owen, of the City of Plymouth", in Letters Patent dated 30 June 1992. As a member of the House of Lords, he is called "Lord Owen" and sits as a crossbencher.
During the April 1992 election campaign, Owen writing in The Mail on Sunday newspaper advised voters to vote Liberal Democrat where they had a chance of victory and to vote Conservative rather than let Neil Kinnock become Prime Minister. Owen maintained his long standing position that he would never join the Conservative Party, although the memoirs of at least three of John Major's cabinet ministers refer to Major being quite keen to appoint Owen to his cabinet, but threats of resignation from within the Cabinet prevented him from doing so. When asked in a conversation with Woodrow Wyatt on 18 December 1988 whether she would have Owen in her government if approached by him, Margaret Thatcher replied: "Well, not straight away. I don't think I would do it straight away. He was very good on the Northern Ireland terrorist business. He's wasting his life now. It's so tragic. He's got real ability and it ought to be used". In another conversation with Wyatt on 4 June 1990 Thatcher said Owen's natural home was the Conservative Party. He was approached privately by Tony Blair, then leader of the Opposition, in 1996 on whether he was ready to support New Labour. Lord Owen declined mainly because he disagreed with Tony Blair's intention, as Prime Minister, to join the eurozone.
In May 2005, he was approached two days before the General Election by someone very close to Tony Blair to endorse Labour. He declined, because though he did not want a Conservative government, he wanted the Liberal Democrats to do sufficiently well to ensure a greatly reduced Labour majority.
In September 2007, it was widely reported in the British press that Lord Owen had met the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown and afterwards had refused to rule out supporting Labour at the next general election. It later emerged that he could have been part of the GOAT (Government of all talents) initiative advising on the NHS but Lord Owen declined. In October 2009 he wrote an article in the Times predicting that the Conservatives, then well ahead in the opinion polls, were unlikely to win an outright majority. He helped create the web-based Charter 2010 to explain and promote the potential of a hung parliament. The website campaign was launched in January 2010 while the Conservatives still appeared on course to win outright. Within weeks the polls changed and the website became a major source of information about hung parliaments. In May 2010 the Sunday Times called Owen "the prophet of the coalition".
In January 2011, Owen revealed that his "heart was with Labour" and that he looked forward to the time when he could vote Labour again. He added that what hampered him in the past was the way the Labour Party elects its leader and it was very necessary for the electoral college arrangement to be reformed and he refused to rule out joining the Labour Party the future. He vigorously opposed the Health and Social Care Bill in 2011-12. In a pamphlet, "Fatally Flawed" he demonstrated that far from the internal market, which he had championed in the 1980s, the Bill introduced an external market and he worked closely with the Labour Front Bench in the House of Lords.
Subsequent international role
In August 1992, Owen was British Prime Minister John Major's choice to succeed Lord Carrington as the EU co-chairman of the Conference for the Former Yugoslavia, along with Cyrus Vance, the former US Secretary of State as the UN co-chairman.
Private Eye, the British satirical magazine, playfully alluded towards Owen's legendary tendency towards self-destruction. "It's a lost cause", says the bubble emanating from Major's mouth. "I'm your man", says the bubble from Owen's mouth. The Labour Shadow Foreign Minister, Jack Cunningham, greeted Major's appointment of Owen in the British House of Commons by saying that the Prime Minister's choice "was regarded as somewhat eccentric by [MPs] and myself - he [Owen] is known for many qualities, but not as a mediator. Indeed he has Balkanised a few political parties himself"
Owen became a joint author of the Vance-Owen Peace Plan (VOPP), in January 1993, which made a heroic effort to move away from the presumption of ethnic partition. According to America's last ambassador to Yugoslavia, the Bosnian Government were ready to accept the VOPP, but unfortunately the Clinton Administration delayed in its support, thus missing a chance to get it launched. The VOPP was eventually agreed in Athens in May 1993 under intense pressure by all parties including Bosnian Serb leader Karadžić but then rejected later by the Bosnian-Serb Assembly meeting in Pale, after Karadžić insisted that the Assembly had the right to ratify the agreement. After Vance's withdrawal, Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg brokered the EU Action Plan of December 1993. They both helped the Contact Group of the US/UK/France/Germany and Russia to present its plan in the summer of 1994.
In early 1994, the European Parliament had voted by 160 votes to 90, with 2 abstentions, for Owen's dismissal, but he was supported by all 15 EU Member State governments. There was a perception in America that Owen was "not fulfilling his function as an impartial negotiator.". Owen, however, was consistently supported by all 15 EU Member States and the German Presidency in July 1994 urged him to remain as did the French Presidency in January 1995. Owen was made a Companion of Honour for his services in the former Yugoslavia in 1994.
In January 1995, Lord Owen wrote to President François Mitterrand as President of the European Union to say that he wished to step down before the end of the French presidency. At the end of May 1995, he was succeeded by the former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt. "Had I been younger, I would probably have resigned when the Americans ditched the Vance-Owen Peace Plan".
Lord Owen has continued to speak out on issues of international affairs including on nuclear proliferation and constrained intervention. In 2011 he was the first politician to call for a "no-fly zone" over Libya. In an editorial on 27 February 2011 the Sunday Times said, "It was a man who has not been in office for nearly 32 years - Lord Owen, the former foreign secretary - who has been the most eloquent British voice over Libya. His call for a no-fly-zone....struck the right note".
Owen is a strong supporter of Britain's membership of the European Union but also opposes many of the more dramatic proposals for integration.
As chairman of New Europe, he was the co-leader of the 'no to the Euro' campaign with Business for Sterling, which ceased when the UK Government declared in 2005 that Euro membership was off the agenda following the defeat of the EU Constitution in referendums in France and the Netherlands.
He has also called for a referendum before Britain's ratification of the Lisbon treaty, and expressed concerns about proposals for the creation of a 'European Rapid Reaction Force'. He is a self-described Anti-Federalist. In February 2010, he wrote a pamphlet for the Social Market Foundation thinktank entitled "EU Social Market and Social Policy". Owen supports the referendum requirements within the European Union Act 2011.
Lord Owen continued to argue for engagement, criticising David Cameron's so-called 'veto' in December 2011 arguing instead for a formal non-eurozone grouping with the right to join or leave the eurozone. In June 2012 Lord Owen published "Europe Restructured" outlining a blueprint for restructuring the EU to allow for those countries that wish to be part of a more integrated eurozone to be facilitated while those who may only want to belong to a Single Market community are enabled to do so. He concludes that a referendum on the UK's relationship with the EU is inevitable.
Enterprises and affiliations
Lord Owen was chairman of Yukos International UK BV, a division of the former Russian petroleum company Yukos, from 2002 to 2005. and a member of the board of Abbott Laboratories, a US healthcare company, from 1996-2011. He is currently non-executive chairman of Europe Steel Ltd and consultant to Epion Holdings, owned by Alisher Usmanov. In late 2009, Owen accepted a seat on the board of Texas-based Hyperdynamics Corporation, an oil concern with an exclusive lease to an offshore area of the Republic of Guinea in west Africa..
Owen was the Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, from 1996-2009. He has written extensively on the interaction between illness and politics, with a particular emphasis on the 'hubris syndrome', a condition affecting those at the pinnacle of power. The concept has been most fully developed in a co-authored paper in Brain. The concept of hubris syndrome has been analysed by Professor Gerald Russell. Lord Owen is chairman of the Trustees of the Daedalus Trust established to promote and provide funds for the interdisciplinary study of how 'the intoxication of power' in all walks of life can affect personality and decision making.
He married Deborah Owen (née Schabert), an American literary agent, in 1968. They have two sons and one daughter, Tristan, Gareth and Lucy.
- David Owen, The Politics of Defence (Jonathan Cape and Taplinger Pub. Co, 1972)
- David Owen, "In Sickness and in Health: The Politics of Medicine" (Quartet Books, 1976)
- David Owen, Human Rights (Jonathan Cape and W.W. Norton & Company, 1978)
- David Owen, Face the Future (Jonathan Cape and Praeger, 1981)
- David Owen, A Future That Will Work (Viking 1984, Praeger, 1985)
- David Owen, "A United Kingdom" (Penguin Books, 1986)
- David Owen to Kenneth Harris, Personally Speaking (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987)
- David Owen, Our NHS" (Pan Books, 1988)
- David Owen, Time to Declare (Michael Joseph, 1992)
- David Owen, Balkan Odyssey (Victor Gollancz, Harcourt Brace 1995)
- David Owen, The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair and the Intoxication of Power (Politico's, 2007; updated edition 2012)
- David Owen, In Sickness and in Power: Illness in Heads of Government During the Last 100 Years (Methuen, 2008; revised edition 2011)
- David Owen, Time to Declare: Second Innings (Politico's, 2009) - revised and updated abridgement of Time to Declare and Balkan Odyssey
- David Owen, "Nuclear Papers" (Liverpool University Press, 2009)
- David Owen, "Europe Restructured" (Methuen, 2012)
- Harris 1988, p. 1
- Harris 1988, p. 7
- Ronson, Jon (10 March 2001). "Who pulls the strings? (part 3)". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 July 2009. "During the Falklands war, the British government's request for international sanctions against Argentina fell on stony ground. But at a Bilderberg meeting in, I think, Denmark, David Owen stood up and gave the most fiery speech in favour of imposing them. Well, the speech changed a lot of minds. I'm sure that various foreign ministers went back to their respective countries and told their leaders what David Owen had said. And you know what? Sanctions were imposed."
- "SDP: Breaking the mould". BBC News. 25 January 2001.
- "Top Ten: Lib Dem 'breakthrough moments'". ePolitix.com. 2010-04-24. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
- The London Gazette: . 3 July 1992. Retrieved 28 March 2009.
- Sarah Curtis (ed.), The Journals of Woodrow Wyatt. Volume One (London: Pan, 1999), p. 691.
- Sarah Curtis (ed.), The Journals of Woodrow Wyatt. Volume Two (London: Pan, 2000), p. 305.
- Hennessy, Patrick (16 September 2007). "The gang Labour blames for wilderness years". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- David Owen, Time to Declare: Second Innings (Politico's, 2009)
- David Owen In Sickness and in Power p.305
- Kite, Melissa (2007-09-16). "David Owen in talks with Gordon Brown". Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
- "Letters: We will continue to campaign for PR | Politics". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
- Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia  by Brendan Simms p137
- Balkan Tragedy (1995) Susan L. Woodward p304
- Origins of the Catastrophe (1999) Warren Zimmermann p222
- Unfinest Hour, p167
- Unfinest Hour p157-8
- David Owen and Jonathan Davidson, "Hubris Syndrome: An Acquired Personality Disorder? A study of US presidents and UK Prime Ministers over the last 100 years" Brain 2009: 132; 1407-1410
- The Psychiatrist April 2011 35:140-145
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by David Owen
- The David Owen Archive at the University of Liverpool
- David Owen resigns as SDP leader (BBC News On This Day webpage, including news report footage)
- Lord Owen on the House of Lords site.
- David Owen interviewed by Alyssa McDonald on New Statesman.
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
Ian Montagu Fraser
|Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton
|Member of Parliament for Plymouth Devonport
|Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Lord Carrington
|Party political offices|
|Leader of the Social Democratic Party
|Leader of the Social Democratic Party