They said they were going to break the mould of British politics. For a time, it looked as if they might just succeed.
Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers made clear their intention to launch a new party when they made the Limehouse declaration in January 1981. The so called Gang of Four went on to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP) weeks later. It was a break away from the Labour Party, which had been all-but captured by Tony Benn and other left wingers after the party lost office to Margaret Thatcher in the 1979 general election.
For a time, the SDP threatened both Labour and Tory seats. Jenkins and Williams won famous by-election victories in Crosby and Glasgow Hillhead in a few heady months in the winter of 1981-2. Few now remember how vulnerable Thatcher's Government was as the brutal 1981 budget led to mass unemployment not seen since the Thirties. But her fortunes changes when a south American dictator straight from central casting invaded the Falklands and a last gasp of empire saw Britain go to war over a colony 8,000 miles away.
As a result, the Tories won the 1983 election by a landslide, Labour narrowly held on to second place and the SDP's chance had gone.
They say that breakaway parties never succeed. For a time the SDP looked like breaking the rule, as well as the mould. But as the Gang of Four plotted, we might have taken a lesson from history. Just months before, the notorious leader of another failed break away from Labour died. Sir Oswald Mosley was a Labour minister but he left to create the New Party in 1931 - Britain's fascist party.