Tag Archives: shirley williams

Shirley Williams on her mother’s wartime nursing service and role of women in World War 1

shirley williams by paul walterNext week, Shirley Williams is to take part in the Stratford Upon Avon Literary Festival talking about her mother Vera Brittain’s role as a nurse volunteer in the First World War and on the wider role of women generally before, during and after the war.

From the Birmingham Post:

Baroness Shirley Williams is incredibly proud of her “wonderful” mother Vera Brittain, whose First World War memoir has been adapted into a new BBC drama with an all-star cast.

Testament of Youth charts Vera’s personal journey from an Oxford scholarship

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The Immigration Bill: 23 Liberal Democrat Lords rebel on “stateless” power, 12 on child trafficking guardian

immigrationThe Immigration Bill was back in the Lords this Monday where the Government suffered two defeats. The first was to overturn the power of the Home Secretary to deprive terror suspects who had acquired British citizenship  (note, suspects, not anybody who has been convicted of anything) of that citizenship even if so doing would render them stateless.

Of the 242 peers supporting Lord Pannick’s amendment, 23 of them were Liberal Democrats. And their ranks included more than the usual Awkward Squad.

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33 years ago today the launch of the SDP was announced

SDP logoThe Guardian has delved into its archives to bring us the announcement, on 18th March 1981, about the launch of the Social Democratic Party.

The Social Democratic Party is to launch itself to the end of the runway next week, and even its most devoted supporters admit that they have not the faintest idea whether it will take off.

But the launching is to be conducted with military efficiency. The big names, including Mr Roy Jenkins and Mrs Shirley Williams, will be deployed across the nation to ensure maximum coverage.

The operation was announced at the Commons yesterday by Mr Mike Thomas, MP for Newcastle East. He made it clear that substantial sums of money, including £80,000 in the bank, will be available to finance it.

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Shirley Williams: “A separate Scotland would be a diminished Scotland, leaving behind a diminished United Kingdom”

Shirley WilliamsLast night, Shirley Williams spoke at the East Dunbartonshire Liberal Democrats’ Annual Dinner. Someone has slipped us a copy of her speech. She joins David Bowie in calling for Scotland to stay within the UK but had a little more substance to her argument. She made the point that both Scotland and the rest of the UK lose out if we leave. She talked of the opportunities Scotland’s had and the contributions its politicians have made internationally. Here is her speech in full:

It is a privilege for me to be asked to speak at your annual Liberal Democrat dinner, a privilege not just to be here in Scotland when the huge question of your future is being discussed, but also because you have an outstanding young MP in Jo Swinson, widely recognised as a rising star and now a mother as well.

She holds her constituency, as you know, by a very narrow margin. She is already one of the most respected women in Parliament.  And for me, after fifty years in politics – I was first elected in 1964 – it is marvellous to see the emergence of a new young generation of women MPs. In the devolved parliaments of Scotland and Wales, a much higher proportion of members are women than is the case in Westminster.

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LibLink: Vince Cable: Baroness Shirley Williams, the Lib Dem peer who defined British public life

Over at the New Statesman, Vince Cable has been reviewing Mark Peel’s new biography of Shirley Williams.

He starts off by expressing annoyance at the conclusion – and quite rightly, too, given her major contribution to national and international life over 6 decades:

She is, of course, approachable, informal, engaging and whatever else “nice” means. But “niceness” is also a dismissive put down, as in William Hague’s comment in an Oxford Union debate (quoted as the punchline of the introduction): “In politics, Mrs Williams, it isn’t enough to be nice.” And it misses the essential point, that she is an extremely interesting

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Shirley Williams on green taxes, war, crime and Theresa May’s Prime Ministerial ambition…

Shirley WilliamsShirley Williams was reviewing the papers with the Spectator’s Fraser Nelson on this morning’s Andrew Marr show.

Remembrance Sunday was  obviously discussed. Shirley described a story of a boy of 12 sent to Somme after lying his way into the Army and his mother got him sent back. Of course, by that time, he had seen so many horrors.

She also added that it’s not just the lives lost we have to commemorate:

Many get a life sentence as those injured suffer for the rest of their lives.

She described the use of IEDs as “colossally effective but deeply cruel”, a weapon that’s  inexpensive but devastating.

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Danny Alexander MP writes… Trident: The UK’s voice on an international issue

I believe Trident is the UK’s last, unreformed bastion of Cold War thinking. And I believe we can adapt our nuclear deterrent to the threats of the 21st century by ending 24-hour patrols when we don’t need them and procuring fewer submarines.

This is the conclusion I draw from the Trident Alternatives Review that the Coalition Government published in July – a Review that clearly would not have happened without Lib Dems in Government.

But when the Review was published, some of our critics claimed any changes to Trident would seriously damage our relationship with the US. …

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Clegg, Ashdown, Williams & Hughes set out case for action in Syria

Writing in tonight’s London Evening Standard, Nick Clegg, Simon Hughes, Paddy Ashdown and Shirley Williams set out the case for international action in Syria.

After describing the horrors of  chemical weapons, they declare:

We four believe a strong response from the international community is now necessary.

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Nick Clegg’s Letter from the Leader: “Trident: we need to protect ourselves from the threats of the future not the past”

libdem letter from nick clegg

Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system, divides opinion. That was apparent this week when the Government published the results of a two-year, detailed study of the alternatives.

Some people say Britain should surrender our nuclear weapons tomorrow, regardless of what threats we face. While others seem to believe it’s unpatriotic to even consider anything other than the full-scale Trident system we built for the Cold War threats of yesterday.

Personally, I think the world has changed. I am not, and never have been, a believer in unilateral disarmament. But I

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Shirley seeks to amend same-sex marriage bill: “Equality is not the same as sameness”

There’s no doubt Shirley Williams has many admirable qualities. For example, her passionate belief in free-at-the-point-of-use health-care, her passionate defence of excellent education for all, and her quite staggering propensity for appearing on BBC1′s Question Time.

But even the best of us err. First, there was her casual dismissal of sexual harrassment (“we have got somewhat obsessed about getting very exaggerated reactions to what is silly and impolite and discourteous behaviour”). And now there’s her attempt to de-rail same-sex marriage legislation. As PinkNews reports:

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Williams has tabled a new amendment urging for a legal separation

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The 1983 election: highlights and hindsight

I spent more of my bank holiday than is healthy watching the rerun of the 1983 election on BBC Parliament.

When I lived through it, I was an innocent and idealistic 15 year old. I really believed people would be so outraged that the Alliance had polled 7 million votes, finishing marginally behind Labour but with about a ninth of their seats. As Shirley Williams said, it was “absolute rubbish.” Surely we would have PR within a decade?

Thirty years on, it depresses me that we are no further forward. Westminster remains the last bastion of first past the post, for Scots …

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It’s not just the Lib Dem leadership trying to ignore the ‘secret courts’ row: the news media is too

I had an odd experience on Friday. I was doing a round of media interviews – 3 for TV, 3 for radio – previewing the Lib Dem conference. I’d been called by researchers in advance to ‘get my take’ on the key issues. Each time, I said there was a big issue on which the party leadership could expect to be defeated and which would see activists from across the broad spectrum of the Lib Dems united: opposition to secret courts. This received an “Uh-hum” response which I took for baffled boredom. And as expected, each interview in turn dwelt …

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Conference Rally: Confessional, motivational and defiant

A conference rally without Tim Farron is a bit like strawberries without cream. When he wasn’t there telling his bad football jokes, I wondered if he’d been put on the Naughty Step for his interview earlier. But, no, he hadn’t even arrived in Brighton.

What we did have was a sense of almost cleansing, confessional, cathartic and heartfelt speeches tackling the pain of the last few weeks head on.

Nick Clegg made clear that he wanted to change the culture in the party. What he said is not new for him. He’s always been very pro equality, but this was a new …

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Caron’s pick of the Federal Spring Conference agenda

Spring 2013 Federal Conference agendaIt’s just over three weeks until Liberal Democrats gather in Brighton for our annual Federal Spring Conference. This morning the agenda landed on my doorstep and I thought I’d share my highlights with you.

If you can, it’s worth trying to get there for 3 pm on Friday 8th March for the consultation sessions. This is an important part of the policy making process, where ordinary party members can have their say as policy documents are being written. Most of them are on issues which apply to the …

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This week in the Lords: 28 January – 1 February

House of LordsYes, just as late as has been the habit recently, here’s your heads up for events in the upper chamber this week… anyone would think that I didn’t have a day of my own…

It’s another long week for our Parliamentary Party, with a nod to the recent wintry weather, but Monday sees Day 2 of the Committee Stage of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, where Tony Greaves will seek to remove attempts to place further limits on the power to require information with planning applications. Frankly, when I see …

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“It was a tough battle” – Shirley Williams on the birth of the SDP

Shirley Williams tells the story of the 1981 Gang of Four breakaway, which eventually led to the formation of the Liberal Democrats, in the first issue of AD LIB magazine, out next week.

“…we said, if we haven’t got anywhere else to go, we’ll create one.”

Those nascent views crystallised after the party’s 1981 Wembley conference which committed it to unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the EEC and NATO. Within hours Williams, Owen and Rodgers were drawing up the plans which would lead to the creation of the SDP.

“The three of us met – not Roy, at that point –

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Who Lib Dem members think are the most effective non-MPs at promoting the party

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 500 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Oakeshott, Ashdown and Pack top your list

LDV asked: Which prominent Lib Dems who are NOT MPs (eg, peers, campaigners) are doing an effective job of promoting the party to the public? Please write-in.

    Lord (Matthew) Oakeshott
    Lord (Paddy) Ashdown
    Mark Pack
    Evan Harris
    Baroness (Shirley) Williams
    Lord (Chris) Rennard
    Caroline Pidgeon AM
    Willie Rennie MSP
    Baroness (Susan) Kramer
    Stephen Tall
    Kirsty Williams AM
    Lord (Tom) McNally
    Baroness (Ros) Scott

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Lord McNally writes… Conscience and reform

Shirley Williams has recently been made Peer of the Year in one of the regular Parliamentary Awards. Eric Avebury was recently given a life time achievement award at a ceremony in the Speaker’s House. Matthew Oakeshott received praise for his persistence in pointing out that there is much in our banking system which is rotten and in need of reform. When issues affecting children are debated in the Lords it is often Joan Walmsley who holds the House with informed and practical opinion. Ditto when Margaret Sharp speaks on science, technology and higher education. Sally Hamwee and Martin …

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Shirley Williams on the high point of her political career

For many years Adrian Slade has interviewed prominent Liberal Democrats. To mark his recent decision to make his archive of the interview recordings available to researchers and other interested parties, Lib Dem Voice is running a selection of his write-ups of interviews from over the years. The latest is with Shirley Williams, from 2002 when she was Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords.

Perhaps it is not surprising that Shirley Williams picks election day in October ’64 as the high point of her long political career.  That was when, after three tries, she not only became a Labour MP (for Hitchin/Stevenage) but started immediately on her ministerial path. “It was always difficult for a woman but finally all these people had voted for me. I felt euphoric,” she says.

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Listen: Baroness Williams on her moral and religious beliefs

There’s still time to listen to Shirley Williams on this week’s edition of Belief on BBC Radio 3:

The new Easter series of Belief opens with a conversation between two baronesses: Joan Bakewell and Shirley Williams.

Shirley Williams was born in 1930. Her father, the philosopher and political scientist George Catlin, was a great influence. He bought young Shirley a copy of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets when she was two years old. He also introduced her to the Roman Catholic Church. She has also been greatly influenced by the moral and political convictions of her mother the feminist and pacifist writer,

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Conference heroes and heroines

Shirley Williams – for rejecting the title of living deity with characteristic common sense in her Sabbath day speech to conference.

Evan Harris – for cutting through the cynicism of christening motions after national treasures by teasing conference with his “William Beveridge” amendment speech on the Shirley Williams motion. What next – the Conrad Russell memorial welfare reforms or the John Stuart Mill cuts in Sure Start? That’s enough naming stuff after deities living or dead thanks very much.

Pamphleteers Prateek Buch (Plan C – social liberal approaches to a fair, sustainable economy published by Social Liberal Forum) and Jo Ingold (Challenges …

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Chris Rennard writes… Who will win the debate between Shirley Williams and Polly Toynbee?

I spent some of last Saturday morning in the briefing session at the Lib Dem Conference with the Lib Dem parliamentary health team sitting just in front of Andrew Sparrow and Patrick Wintour (both of the Guardian) as Shirley Williams laid into Polly Toynbee’s account in their paper of a key amendment on the Health Bill. For those of us who are fed up with Toynbee’s ‘tribal’ attacks on the Lib Dems it was a joy to listen to.

Andrew Sparrow wrote a great account of Shirley’s clear rebuttal of the Toynbee attack. He tweeted that, “It …

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Opinion: Let’s unite behind the Protecting the NHS motion

I adore Shirley Williams, always have, always will. She’s one of my political heroes. The way she has fought for women’s rights and helped emerging democracies to develop shows a truly liberal and compassionate spirit. So that’s my declaration of interest out of the way. But I’m not alone. I’d say most of us in Gateshead this weekend feel the same way. Policy decisions we make, though, are not about her.

The future of the NHS is not something that you can pin to personalities. That’s why I was not best chuffed when Nick Clegg said this afternoon that you were …

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LDVideo: Nick Clegg – “If I thought this Bill was about privatising the NHS, it would never have seen the light of day”

Nick Clegg took part in an afternoon Q&A at today’s Lib Dem conference, and vigorously defended the changes to the NHS being implemented by the Coalition as amended by the party. Conference representatives earlier voted, by a slim margin of 309 votes to 280, to debate tomorrow morning Shirley Williams’ motion, ‘Saving the NHS’, rather than the ‘Drop the Bill’ motion put forward by Winchester Lib Dems.

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What Lib Dem members think about the NHS Bill: 57% opposed, but majority might back it if significantly amended

We’ve been surveying the views of current Lib Dem members this week on your views on the NHS Bill. Over 500 responded, and here’s what you told us…

  • A majority of Lib Dem members – and a majority of Lib Dem members who will be voting delegates at the party’s spring conference at NewcastleGateshead this weekend – oppose the Coalition Government’s NHS reforms as they currently stand. By 57% to 32%, Lib Dem members reject the Health & Social Care Bill.
  • However, that does not automatically mean the Lib Dem conference will vote to ‘Kill the Bill’ if
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    Shirley Williams sets the record straight on NHS reform

    It has been suggested by one of our readers that we give a higher profile to a speech made in the House of Lords on Tuesday, especially in light of the ongoing debate on these pages. And so, without further ado…

    Baroness Williams of Crosby

    I want to say a word about competition, and it is appropriate to do so given that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has just been speaking. He has always spoken with some courage on this issue, which I recognise is not exactly popular with his party. However, I say quite directly that I feel very strongly that …

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    Baroness Barker writes… Liberal Democrats protecting the integrity of the NHS

    We trust that doctors and nurses will care for us to the best of their ability, and we trust the decisions they make about our treatment are always in our best interest. It is clear that for patients and medical professionals alike, maintaining the integrity of the NHS is essential.

    Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) will bring their unique knowledge of the health needs of their patient population to the design and commissioning of health services as part of the proposals contained in the Health and Social Care Bill.

    We know that CCGs must be transparent and accountable to the public and …

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    Shirley Williams: how to sort out the NHS Bill mess

    Earlier today I blogged about the odd and dangerous political situation the Liberal Democrats risk being left in – more in favour of the NHS Bill than large parts of the Conservative Party:

    Arguing that you are the smaller party in a coalition and have achieved some important changes to a piece of legislation that has come from another party’s Secretary of State is one thing. But then ending up being keener on seeing the Bill go through than much of the Secretary of State’s own party? That’s skirting with political disaster.

    Shortly afterwards (though I’m sure not as a result!), Shirley Williams took to The Guardian website to offer an escape route, both for the substantive policy issues and the politics of it:

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    Shirley Williams’ campaign against NHS reforms wins new concessions from Lansley

    Here’s how The Guardian reports today’s news that the Coalition will offer further concessions to the NHS reform bill in an attempt to head off a revolt in the House of Lords led by Lib Dem peer Baroness Williams:

    … ministers will table a series of amendments to the health and social care bill that will oblige Andrew Lansley to maintain the NHS as a national public service and, his critics say, limit his ambitions to expand the role of the private sector. The changes will also spell out the kind of services that must be offered by GPs and

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    Ashdown, Glover and Williams on the party’s history

    The latest edition of the Journal of Liberal History caries this account from me of the conference meeting which launched the new history of the party, Peace, Reform and Liberation. You can watch the meeting in full here.

    It would be a brave person who walked up to Paddy Ashdown or Shirley Williams and told them to their face that they are history, or even old, but they are two of the most charismatic, interesting and thoughtful members of the living history class – people who have been around in politics long enough to be able to talk at first hand about not only the origins of the Liberal Democrats but prior events too. So to have both on the bill at the Liberal Democrat History Group’s Autumn 2011 conference fringe meeting not surprisingly resulted in a spacious room being packed, leaving people standing at the sides, the back and in the doorways. However, the star of the show in many ways was the less well-known third speaker, then of The Guardian and now of Downing Street, Julian Glover.

    All three were introduced to the meeting by the Group’s chair, and one of the lead authors of the book being launched, Peace, Reform and Liberation, Duncan Brack. He reassured the audience that the meeting was maintaining historical party traditions, for Paddy Ashdown was going to have to leave early … and Shirley Williams was late! He also quoted Paddy Ashdown’s words on the importance of political history to a party, taken from his autobiography, A Fortunate Life, in which Ashdown recounted some of the problems of the 1989 SDP–Liberal merger. He wrote that, ‘Being a relative outsider compared to the older MPs I had, in my rush to create the new party, failed to understand that a political party is about more than plans, priorities, policies and a chromium-plated organisation. It also has a heart and a history and a soul.’

    The same applies to a newspaper, too, and in kicking off with the first main speech Julian Glover took a look at one part of his newspaper’s history and soul – its on/off, love/hate relationship with the Liberal Party and its successors. Glover cited The Guardian’s May 2010 editorial urging people to vote Liberal Democrat. But, as Glover added, ‘As soon as we did it, we changed our minds.’ That prevarication is nothing new and, he implied, not necessarily much of a problem for the party given that polling showed that Labour support amongst Guardian readers went up after that 2010 editorial.

    The paper’s political advice has varied much over the years. Julian Glover even located a 1950s Guardian editorial which urged people to vote out Clement Atlee and vote in the Conservative Party. But much of the time the paper had been a Labour-supporting outlet which urged best wishes on the Liberals and their successors, often advising the party to be just a little different in a benevolent / condescending (delete to taste) way.

    Much of the editorialising about Britain’s third party has been, as Glover highlighted, variants on a common theme: to bemoan that the third party is not fully backing whatever cause is of most concern to the paper at the time. The other theme, he added, is to write off the third party as doomed. On occasion, The Guardian has combined both themes in one leader, including in a 1987 leader that said, ‘These are dire days for the Alliance. They have some of the most thoughtful and radical politicians around.’ Glover added, ‘As a paper we certainly seem to enjoy nothing more than praising the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats while going on to explain why we can’t actually support it.’ The party’s 1992 general election manifesto received praise from the paper: ‘it far outdistances its competitors with a fizz of ideas and an absence of fudge’, but even that was not enough for the paper to call for Paddy to become prime minister. ‘So there you have it, 150 years from The Guardian and the Manchester Guardian calling on the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats to be brave, radical; praising the party’s policies and then writing it off as irrelevant’, concluded Julian Glover.

    He was followed by Paddy Ashdown, who in typical fashion strode towards the audience before starting to quiz everyone in the room, testing people’s knowledge with quotes from history. After an easy duo with ‘Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’ and ‘I intend to march my troops towards the sound of gunfire’, with the audience easily and correctly guessing (or in many cases, remembering) David Steel and Jo Grimond, Ashdown posed a tougher one with, ‘Ideas are not responsible for the people who believe in them’. The answer? Paddy himself (on being particularly exasperated by Alex Carlisle). Probably. He admitted he may have borrowed it from someone else and forgotten. (A search through Hansard finds him first using the phrase in Parliament 1986, in a different context and even then not sure if he had penned it himself).

    He went on to entertain and enlighten the audience with a sequence of many other quotes from past Liberals, including from Lord Acton: ‘A state which is incompetent to satisfy different races, condemns itself. A state which labours to neutralise, to absorb, to expel them destroys its own vitality. A state which does not include them is destitute of the chief basis of self-government.’ Acton got several mentions, with Ashdown also picking out what he described as one of his favourite quotes: ‘It is easier to find people fit to govern themselves than it is to find people fit to govern’. The quote should be emblazoned across the party’s political manuals, he said, making the implicit point that many of the lessons past liberal drew from their contemporary experience are still highly relevant today.

    As he said, ‘our history is our present’ – just after quoting Gladstone on Afghanistan. Different centuries, different wars but the same humane, liberal creed: ‘That philosophy of liberalism that combines a solution to the questions of liberty and freedom – and sometimes, as John Stuart Mill said, they oppose each other, the freedom to and the freedom from – you have to determine where that balance lies for your time, for your nation and for your generation. It does not lie always in the same place. You have to determine that. That is why liberalism is a living creed.’ He finished saying, ‘The thing that we have in our party title – liberal – goes back thousands of years. You should be proud of that. It should give us strength, and it should make us campaign even harder … Henry Gibson once said, ‘You do not go out to battle for freedom and truth wearing your best trousers.’ Sometimes I think our party wears its best trousers too much. This is our heritage and it is also our message today – and we should be proud of it’.

    It would take a speaker of rare skill to match Ashdown’s speech, but Shirley Williams is one of the select band who could – and did, even though she opened joking that she wished she had after all agreed to speak before rather than after him. She contrasted Ashdown’s drawing of lessons from the more distant past with her own talk – looking at the lessons from more recent political history, in particular the way the limited teaching of history in the US helps shapes its leaders’ worldview – if you only teach American history, you end up with people who do not think much beyond the boundaries of America. This had ‘devastating consequences’, Shirley Williams argued, when the lessons of the Vietnam War and the state the country was left in were not applied to Iraq.

    She then turned to the way the Liberal Party declined so sharply in the early twentieth century, becoming reduced to near irrelevance. ‘What kept it going were the deep roots it had put down in some parts of the country – the Pennines, parts of the West Country and of course the Celtic Welsh and Scottish Liberals,’ Shirley Williams explained. Her own roots, of course, are in the social democracy rather than liberalism – a distinction she described as being based on being less distrustful of the powers of the state, but also a distinction that has faded as the merged Liberal Democrats have evolved.

    Returning to America and the uses of history, Williams said that lessons from the 1930s are still very relevant. One of her conclusions from them is the need to consider a job creation program, aimed particularly at young people, funded by a dedicated temporary tax. More optimistically, she thinks politicians have learnt from the 1930s that they should not ‘simply take the dictation of the market without any question as to whether it is right or whether it isn’t.’ Then only the American President FDR amongst western leaders bucked that consensus of treating the recession as an act of inevitability, introducing instead a liberal and democratic government to fight that which other people viewed as inevitable.

    The USA is also responsible for her views on coalition. Williams revealed that initially she would have preferred a minority Conservative government, with a confidence and supply arrangement rather than a formal coalition. However, she has since changed her mind, drawing on what she has seen in the USA and the dangers it shows of ‘total political polarisation’ stopping the government from taking necessary action in an economic crisis. As a result, she now thinks forming a coalition ‘was necessary and it was right … One had to make the political system work, even if it was painful and difficult to do so.’

    Finally, looking back a century to Britain’s own history, Shirley Wiliams said there were three failures of the Liberal Party in 1911: on gender, inequality and Ireland. ‘It was appalling that Asquith consistently refused to consider suffrage for women,’ she said, before stressing that in her view the party had made far too little progress in improving the diversity amongst its MPs – and has a diversity problem illustrated by the near all-white audience for the fringe meeting. The success of ‘zipping’ in introducing gender balance amongst the party’s MEP’s points the way, she said, towards the need for action in other areas.

    The second failure was shown by the so-called workers’ rebellion, fuelled by a dramatic drop in real wages. As with gender, this source of 1911 failure is a challenge for the modern party too, with real wages once again dropping. But on this issue Williams said the party was getting right, with its emphasis on a fairer tax system, keeping the 50 per cent tax rate and increasing the basic rate income tax allowance to £10,000. When she was first elected in 1964, the ratio between the pay of the country’s leading chief executives and the average wage of people who worked in manufacturing was about 8:1 she said; now it has risen to over 80:1. ‘That’s not just inequality: it is appalling obscenity.’

    On Ireland, Williams reminded the audience that Ireland was long a passion of William Gladstone. The tragedy of his inability to secure home rule for Ireland was a heavy burden on Britain and Ireland’s subsequent histories. But, much less well known is that when in office Gladstone offered the Zulus a military alliance against the Boers. When he fell as prime minister the proposal fell apart, with huge costs to South Africa, too. On this point, Williams did not explicitly say what the lessons for modern Liberal Democrats are, the implication was left hanging in the air that it meant – at least some of the time – being willing to militarily support the oppressed. What she did say in conclusion was that history matters, for ‘we must learn the lessons, even the painful ones, and not make the same mistakes again’.

    In answers to questions from the audience, Ashdown agreed that Gladstone’s love of thrift and voluntarism is still very relevant – environmentalism is a form of thrift and community politics is based on voluntarism. But community politics is greater than voluntarism, for community politics must also be about shifting power.

    Williams agreed, saying the country was increasingly realising how unreal the New Labour economic boom had been, based on unsustainable debt producing a mirage which both the public and the government believed in. For her thrift has a moral and psychological purpose, making us more happy, she thinks, given the costs of the anxiety that comes from seeking ever-more riches rather than enjoying what you have.

    On voluntarism, Williams again agreed with Ashdown, pointing to the amazing care that hospices provide, thanks to a system based on voluntarism. Repeating her high profile opposition to some aspects of the government’s health reforms, she nonetheless saw a key role for such voluntarism.

    The question and answer session was rather taken over by contemporary political questions, including very strong comments about the importance of the party improving the diversity of its parliamentary party in the Commons from both Williams and Ashdown. The latter admitted to changing his mind on the topic and is now willing to support more radical temporary measures if necessary than he was when leader of the party.

    Ashdown also retold a story of a meeting between Henry Kissinger and Mao Zedong. Seeking to kindle a shared interest in history to smooth the business, Kissinger asked Mao what he thought would have happened if it had been Khrushchev and not John F. Kennedy who had been assassinated. Mao pondered before saying that he doubted that nice, rich Greek ship owner would have married Mrs Khrushchev.

    Closing the meeting, Duncan Brack reminded people of the comment made by the distinguished historian and Liberal Democrat peer, the late Conrad Russell, that the party via its predecessors was probably the oldest political party in the world. This 350 years of history is captured in the new history of the party – to remember, to celebrate and to learn.

    You can buy Peace, Reform and Liberation from Amazon here or reviews from William Wallace and Iain Sharpe.

    * Declaration of interest – I’m one of the chapter authors.

    Watch the event in full

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    Recent Comments

    • User AvatarRaddiy 24th Apr - 1:29pm
      1200 people were at the Sage Gateshead last night to listen to Nigel Farage, all paid £2 for the privilege, half were members and half...
    • User AvatarStephen Tall 24th Apr - 1:26pm
      @ AndrewR I think surveys should try and give an accurate sense of public opinion, just as I think LDV surveys should give an accurate...
    • User AvatarDean.W. 24th Apr - 1:04pm
      @AndrewR - Headline to this thread - but,sorry Nick,more think he (Farage) performed better,differs significantly from "majority of LD, activists think Farage beat Clegg" how?I...
    • User AvatarAndrewR 24th Apr - 12:44pm
      "it’s a shame professional pollsters follow the money of the media’s lust for forced choice questions" Oh come on. In all the surveys you do...
    • User AvatarHugh p 24th Apr - 12:43pm
      No, RC, and no, David Evans. So far as fact-based argument was concerned, Nick Clegg trounced Nigel Farage in their debates, and Nick Clegg is...
    • User Avatartheakes 24th Apr - 12:39pm
      Give me strength. The last thing we need is another leadership effort to convince the public to stay in. Most are bored stiff with the...