Shirley Williams has died, aged 90

Shirley Williams giving her final speech in the House of Lords

Very sad news about one of the greats of post-war British politics, and someone who broke a good few glass ceilings on the way. A Cabinet minister with Labour, a founder of the SDP and Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, she inspired a huge number of people:

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed 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.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat party in the House of Lords Dick Newby said:

Shirley Williams was a charismatic, committed and fearless politician who believed passionately in a fairer society and in Britain’s European destiny. She was an inspiration and mentor to many younger politicians and maintained her campaigning zeal to the end. She was central to the formation of the SDP and the Liberal Democrats, and will be greatly missed by many in her extended political family.

First elected an MP in 1964, she retired from the House of Lords in 2016, giving a wonderful farewell speech.

I still remember with affection the first time I met her, back in the 1992 general election. I was then in York, very much not a target seat. Travelling between two target seats, Shirley had about half an hour to spare between trains. Rather than take the chance for a rest and a coffee, she warned the local party so that a local press call could be arranged. Cue half an hour of her campaigning on train station platforms, bounding up to strangers and engaging them in conversation.

My memory also tells me, accurately I hope, of a great Question Time appearance from her. Quizzed by a persistent member of the pubic who didn’t like her answer to their question, she responded, “Well, if you don’t agree with me, don’t vote for me”.

Love and sympathy to her family and friends.


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