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by Andrew Learmonth
12 April 2021
'Liberal lion' Baroness Shirley Williams dies age 90

'Liberal lion' Baroness Shirley Williams dies age 90

Tributes have been paid to Baroness Shirley Williams, who has died at the age of 90.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said political life would be poorer “without her intellect, her wisdom and her generosity.”

Williams, whose career spanned more than 50 years, died early on Monday morning.

The politician, who served in the cabinet of James Callaghan, was one of the original “gang of four” who left Labour to found the centrist Social Democratic Party in 1981.

Before then, she had served as Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection before moving on to become Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster General.

However, after the party's defeat to the Conservatives in 1979, and uncomfortable with Labour’s move to the left under Michael Foot, she, Bill Rodgers, Roy Jenkins and David Owen decided to form a new party.

Williams served as president of the SDP, and became its first elected MP, winning a by-election in 1981. 

She was a supporter of the SDP's merger with the Liberal Party, which ultimately formed the Liberal Democrats.

Between 2001 and 2004, she served as Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords and, from 2007 to 2010, as Adviser on Nuclear Proliferation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Davey said: “This is heartbreaking for me and for our whole Liberal Democrat family.

“Shirley has been an inspiration to millions, a Liberal lion and a true trailblazer. I feel privileged to have known her, listened to her and worked with her. Like so many others, I will miss her terribly.

“Political life will be poorer without her intellect, her wisdom and her generosity. Shirley had a limitless empathy only too rare in politics today; she connected with people, cared about their lives and saw politics as a crucial tool to change lives for the better.

“As a young Liberal, Shirley Williams had a profound impact on me, as she did on countless others across the political spectrum. Her vision and bravery, not least in founding the SDP, continues to inspire Liberal Democrats today.

“Rest in peace, Shirley. My thoughts and prayers are with your family and your friends.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Shirley was a personal inspiration to me, sparking that initial interest in politics in the 1980s.  She had the sharpest mind, a stubborn doggedness and a warm personality. 

“She was interested in people’s views, especially opponents. I still recall her gently holding the hand of an independence supporter on Dunfermline High Street as she listened intently to her opposing opinion. It lasted a good ten minutes which on a busy campaign visit was a very long time.

“She had a persistent hunger to shape opinion, lead debates and influence the direction of the world from education to Europe to nuclear disarmament.

“From Secretary of State for Education to the Gang of Four to the Presidency of the Liberal Democrats it is no exaggeration that Shirley shaped our country and it is in a much better place because of her public service.  

“Shirley Williams was a force of nature and one of the foremost female politicians of her generation.“


Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Scotland has voted for a second independence referendum, says Nicola Sturgeon

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