Joining the Labour Party in 1960, Owen was elected to Parliament in 1966 and rose rapidly through the ranks. He served as navy minister during 1968–1970 and as shadow junior defense spokesman during 1970–1972. He resigned from the shadow cabinet in 1972 when his party rejected British membership in the European Economic Community (EEC).
When Labour returned to power in February 1974, Owen became minister of health and served until September 1976, when he was appointed deputy to the secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs. In February 1977, he was named secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs, a post he held until May 1979. A consistent champion of European integration and a dedicated Atlanticist, he worked closely with U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance in 1977 over the independence of Rhodesia. In October 1978 Owen helped persuade South Africa to accept a United Nations (UN) resolution to oversee elections in Namibia. He supported British troop deployments to the Falkland Islands to forestall Argentinean claims and was criticized by members of his own party for his pro-American position during the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
After May 1979, and now in opposition, the Labour Party became increasingly anti-European and hostile to nuclear weapons. Having already resigned from the shadow cabinet in November 1980, Owen and three other parliamentarians left Labour and formed the Social Democratic Party in March 1981. During 1983–1987 Owen headed that party. He left Parliament in 1992, later working with Vance again in an attempt to establish peace in the former Yugoslavia.
Owen, David. Time to Declare. London: Penguin, 1991.