David Owen life and biography

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David Owen biography

Date of birth : 1938-07-02
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Plymouth, England
Nationality : British
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2011-02-15
Credited as : Politician, baron of the city of Plymouth,

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Lord David Anthony Llewellyn Owen, baron of the city of Plymouth, England, was a physician who turned politician and served as peace envoy in former Yugoslavia for the European Community.

David Anthony Llewellyn Owen was born July 2, 1938, in Plymouth, England, the son of a country doctor. He was educated at Bradford College and at Sidney Sussex College of Cambridge University. Deciding to follow in his father's footsteps, Owen studied medicine at St. Thomas Hospital. Earning a Bachelors of Medicine and of Surgery in 1962, Owen was connected with St. Thomas for six years, holding the positions of neurological and psychiatric registrar from 1964 to 1966 and research fellow from 1966 to 1968.

His interest in medicine, however, took a backseat to a political career. As early as 1964 Owen ran for a seat in the House of Commons from Torrington as a Labour candidate. Unsuccessful, he ran again two years later to represent the Sutton division of Plymouth and won. He served Sutton until 1974 when he moved to the Devonport division of Plymouth, which he was to serve until 1992 when he received a life peerage. While serving his first two years in the House of Commons, he also was a governor of Charing Cross Hospital. In 1968 he effectively stopped practicing medicine.

His first specialization in political life was in defense. In 1967 he became parliamentary private secretary to the minister of defense for administration. The following year he became parliamentary undersecretary of state for defense for the Royal Navy, a position he held for two years until the Conservatives regained control of the government in 1970. He then became the opposition defense spokesman until 1972, a position from which he resigned because of differences over the Labour Party's stand on the European Economic Community (EEC). His position on defense issues became the subject of his first book, The Politics of Defence (1972).

Owen's life, both personal and public, was not a usual one. He married American literary agent Deborah Schabert in 1968, after only a three weeks' acquaintance in Washington, D.C. His positions in the Labour Party were somewhat contradictory, as he was a domestic liberal and a foreign policy conservative. He opposed Harold Wilson in favor of a more right-wing opponent. While he was a highly regarded politician, he never was able to achieve the leading role he desired.

After Labour's return to power in 1974, Owen moved to domestic issues. He served as parliamentary undersecretary of state in the Department of Health and Social Services from March to July of 1974 before being appointed minister of state in that department. He occupied the position for two years before going to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1976. The same year he published his views on the British health system in In Sickness and in Health—The Politics of Medicine. He served in the Office of Foreign Affairs for a year when the sudden death of Tony Crosland opened the position of foreign secretary to him. He became the youngest (at age 39) foreign secretary since Anthony Eden assumed the office in 1935. He was foreign secretary for only two years when Margaret Thatcher turned Labour out of office, whereupon Owen became the opposition spokesperson for energy.

In March of 1981 Owen was co-founder of the Social Democratic Party. Dissatisfied with Labour's position on nuclear weapons, Owen wanted to create a party on the Left that had greater appeal to the British public. He was not particularly successful, although he did move up the ladder in the party hierarchy. He began as chairman of the parliamentary committee (1981-1982), then became deputy leader from 1982 to 1983, and finally leader from 1983 to 1987. The following year he found himself in another awkward party situation. The Social Democrats and the Liberals decided to form an alliance in order to become more effective, a move opposed by Owen because of the Liberals' more leftist stance. He resigned from the merged group but became leader of the Campaign for Social Democracy, a remnant of the original party. The Old Social Democrats were not successful; when Owen left the House of Commons in 1992 the party held only three seats.

In 1992 Owen received a life peerage as baron of the city of Plymouth and began another kind of public service. He had always been interested in international peace and was particularly active when he served on the Palme Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues from 1980 to 1989 and on the Independent Commission of International Humanitarian Issues from 1983 to 1988. In 1992 Owen became the EC co-chairman of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia as well as its peace envoy in that war-torn region. Together with Cyrus Vance of the United States he developed the Vance-Owen Peace Plan. Though this plan was never accepted by all parties, it helped pave the way for the Dayton Accords, which eventually brought some measure of stability to the region.

Lord Owen evoked much coverage, both positive and negative. On his political career in Britain, see P. Riddell, "Doctor in the House," New Statesman (September 7, 1984); "Dr. Owen's Way," Economist (September 15, 1984); "A Bad Stumble for a Man in a Hurry," Newsweek (August 17, 1987); R. Liddel, "Owen's Legacy," New Statesman and Society (September 6, 1991); and N. Malcolm, "Lord Fraud," New Republic (June 14, 1993). For his foreign policy efforts, see "The Future of the Balkans: An Interview with David Owen," Foreign Affairs (Spring 1993).



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