This site attempts to protect users against Cross-Site Request Forgeries attacks. In order to do so, you must have JavaScript enabled in your web browser otherwise this site will fail to work correctly for you. See details of your web browser for how to enable JavaScript. Skip to Main Content Library - University of Liverpool
Toggle mobile navigation

Due to refurbishment works in the Sydney Jones Library, Special Collections and Archives is closed to users from Monday 3 June until Monday 16 September (inclusive). We're still available for your enquiries via email.

Special Collections & Archives: David Owen Papersaccredited archive service logo

SC&A includes manuscripts and archives, medieval to modern; early and finely printed books, and science fiction collections.

David Owen Papers

Over 400 boxes of records in various media, including correspondence, MS notes, memoranda and reports, committee papers, speech transcripts, news cuttings and publications, campaign material, photographs and cartoons and video and cassette recordings.

Image of Dr David Owen: The Labour Candidate flyer

The collected papers of the Rt Hon the Lord Owen, former Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, cover his political career from his early Labour Party membership until his retirement as SDP MP for Plymouth Devonport. The main body of records date from c.1962-1995, although the collection also contains some earlier material relating to David Owen's family life and education.

Lord Owen's distinguished political career has encompassed service as British Foreign Secretary in the 1974-77 Labour government, foundation and leadership of the Social Democratic Party in Britain and co-chairmanship of the International Conference on Former Yugoslavia (1992-1995).

Image of text reading "Dr David Owen The Labour Candidate" from flyerIn 1960 David Owen, a medical student at St Thomas' Hospital, London, joined the Labour Party, inspired particularly by the politics and integrity of Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell, whilst also moved by the conditions of poverty and squalor which he was shocked to encounter during his hospital work in London. He was voted in as Labour MP for the Plymouth constituency of Sutton in the General Election of 1966, and rapidly became established as a politician of stature within the Labour Party, from his appointments as Minister for the Navy in 1968 and Minister of Health in 1974, to his position as Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 1977-1979, serving as the youngest British Foreign Secretary since Anthony Eden in 1935. However his Labour career was also characterised by an unwillingness to accept the Party line when it diverged from his own firmly-held beliefs: in the summer of 1967 he wrote with colleagues David Marquand and John Mackintosh a tract challenging some Labour policies,Change Gear, and in April 1972 he resigned from the Shadow Cabinet over the Labour Party's refusal to support British entry to the EEC.


Image of text "SDP" from promotional flyer The publication of the Limehouse Declaration by David Owen and three other leading Labour politicians, William Rodgers, Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins, on 25 January 1981, marks the culmination of his unwillingness to compromise his political beliefs for the sake of Party unity. The document was produced in response to the increasing dominance of Left-wing ideas and policies within the Labour Party, which included hostility to British membership of the European Community, support for unilateral nuclear disarmament and the introduction of an 'electoral college' to elect the Party leadership. It announced the establishment of a Council for Social Democracy to 'rally all those who are committed to the values, principles and policies of social democracy' and address the need for a 'realignment of British politics'. The result was the creation of a new party, the Social Democratic Party or SDP, officially launched on 26 March 1981. David Owen served as Deputy Leader of the new party from October 1982-June 1983, and Party Leader from June 1983-August 1987, but his efforts to steer the Party clear of a merger with its electoral allies, the Liberals, and retain its separate identity, were finally defeated by pro-mergerists in both parties in 1987. The continuing SDP was re-established under David Owen's leadership in March 1988, but suffered from diminished membership and failure to reach electoral agreement with the merged party, the Social and Liberal Democrats, and was finally wound down as a national party in June 1990.


Image of David OwenDavid Owen retired as MP for Plymouth Devonport before the General Election of April 1992, having become the longest-serving Plymouth MP., and although accepting a Peerage, initially directed his energies away from political affairs becoming involved in international business ventures and developing a humanitarian charity Humanitas. However, in September 1992, he was persuaded to take up the role of Co-Chairman of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, working for three years towards the formation of a peaceful settlement in the conflict-torn region. He was installed as Chancellor of the University of Liverpool in July 1996.

David Owen Chronology (-April 1992)

Biographical/autobiographical works
  • Owen, David, Balkan Odyssey (London: Victor Gollancz, 1995)
    -covering his period as EU Peace Envoy to the Former Yugoslavia.
  • Owen, David, Time to Declare (London: M. Joseph, 1991)
  • Harris, Kenneth, David Owen: Personally Speaking - to Kenneth Harris
    (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987)
Books by David Owen
  • In Sickness and in Power: Illness in Heads of Government During the Last 100 Years (Methuen, 2008)
  • The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair and the Intoxication of Power(Politico's, 2007)
  • Seven Ages: Poetry for a Lifetime (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995)
  • Negotiate and survive (London: CLV Publications, 1988)
  • Our NHS (London: Pan, 1988)
  • A future that will work: Competitiveness and compassion
    (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987)
  • Social market and social justice. Tawney Society 5th Annual Lecture (London: Tawney Society, 1987)
  • A United Kingdom (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986)
  • Face the Future (London: Cape, 1981)
  • Human Rights (London: Cape, 1978)
  • In sickness and in health: the politics of medicine (London: Quartet Books, 1976)
  • Politics of defence (London: Cape, 1972)
Books relating to the Labour Party, 1960-1981
  • Cocks, Michael, Labour and the Benn factor (London: MacDonald, 1989)
  • Callaghan, James, Time and Chance (London: Collins, 1987)
  • Pelling, Henry, A Short History of the Labour Party (London: McMillan, 1985, 8th Edition)
  • Crosland, Susan, Tony Crosland (London: Jonathan Cape, 1982)
  • Kavanagh, Dennis (ed.), The Politics of the Labour Party (London: Allen and Unwin, 1982)
  • Baker, Blake, The Far Left: an expose of the extreme left in Britain(London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981)
  • Tomlinson, John, Left-Right: the march of political extremism in Britain(London: John Calder, 1981)
  • Williams, Philip M, Hugh Gaitskell: a political biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1979)
Books relating to the SDP
  • Crewe, Ivor and Anthony King, SDP: the birth, life and death of the Social Democratic Party (Oxford: OUP, 1995)
  • Jenkins, Roy, A life at the centre (London: Macmillan, 1991)
  • Sykes, Patricia Lee, Losing from the inside: the cost of conflict in the British Social Democratic Party (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1988)
  • Outwin, Denis, The SDP Story (Maidenhead: Hartswood Publications, 1987)
  • Partnership of principle: writings and speeches on the making of the Alliance by Roy Jenkins, selected and edited by Clive Lindley
    (London: Radical Centre in association with Secker and Warburg , 1985)
  • Josephs, Jeremy, Inside the Alliance: an inside account of the development and prospects of the Liberal-SDP Alliance, with foreword by Dick Taverne
    (London: John Martin , 1983)
  • Tracy, Noel, The origins of the Social Democratic Party (London: Croom Helm, 1983)
  • Rodgers, William, The politics of change (London: Secker and Warburg, 1982)
  • Stephenson, Hugh, Claret and chips: the rise of the SDP (London: Joseph, 1982)
  • Bradley, Ian, Breaking the mould?: the birth and prospects of the Social Democratic Party (Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1981)
  • Williams, Shirley, Politics is for people (Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 1981)
  • National Museum of Labour History Archives and Study Centre
    at the new People's History Museum
    Holds the archives of the Labour Party.
  • University of Essex Special Collections
    Holds the archives of the SDP and the Tawney Society.
  • University of Hull Archives
    Holds the archives of the Social Democratic Party, Beverley and Haltemprice.
  • British Library of Political and Economic Science Archives (LSE)
    Holds the archives of the Liberal Party and David Steel plus a collection of General Election Ephemera relating to all British Political Parties.
  • Modern Political Papers at the Bodleian Library, Oxford
    Extensive papers of 19th and 20th Century politicians, public servants, journalists and others involved in public affairs. Includes the archives of the Conservative Party plus papers of Philip Maynard Williams (1920-1984), historian and political scientist, including papers on the formation of the SDP and correspondence with Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins.
  • Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick
    Holds archives of a variety of political parties and organisations including the Fabian Society Archive which contains some correspondence of Shirley Williams.
  • Yale University Manuscripts and Archives 
    Holds the Cyrus R Vance and Grace Sloane Vance Papers.
    Search for the Online finding aid.
  • National Archives
    Holders of the British National Archives including records of central government and the courts of law.
  • The Parliamentary Archives: House of Lords Record Office 
    Archives service for both houses of Parliament.
  • The British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent
    Hold many political cartoons, many of which are digitised and searchable through an online cartoon database. This includes cartoons by Nick Garland, examples of whose work also appear in the David Owen Papers.

Finding and using