Breaking news: Shirley Williams

We have just learnt the very sad news that Shirley Williams has died, at the age of 90.

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.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Boundless energy, Shirley, even in her eighties. She always made profound sense and had an sharp instinct for the right course of action at the right time. It is hard to lose such gifted people.

  • John Marriott 12th Apr '21 - 4:13pm

    Another political heavyweight has left us. As Lord Owen said just now in tribute, you CAN be nice and still be effective in politics. After Lady Thatcher, as Education Secretary after 1974, Shirley Williams signed more closure orders for grammar schools than any other politician, I believe. It was a pity she wasn’t able to finish the job!

    Her famous mother would have been proud of her. I’m sure that the feeling was reciprocated.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Apr '21 - 4:31pm

    A great lady. A fine mind. A warm personality. In an era when identity is often about characteristics that are specific, her identity was more about the full person. So many aspects were informed by her faith, her values, her beliefs. And they were based on a feeling and concern and approach that was about people. Her book, politics is for people, the title, said it.

    She led this party in the Lords, she led it years before and after, in her stature, if not her role, in the party. Many criticised her for attempting to find compromise on some rather polarised and sensitive areas of concern. But she was involved in international relations, nuclear weapons related, and taught at Harvard. She was far more than a party politician.

    She was a wonderful person.

  • Yeovil Yokel 12th Apr '21 - 4:33pm

    This is profoundly sad news. To me, Shirley Williams was the leading UK politician of my lifetime.

  • So very sorry to hear that. A politician of great ability and stature

  • Barry Lofty 12th Apr '21 - 5:22pm

    What sad news, Shirley Williams was an inspiration to me always a lady of sense and vision. She will be missed, condolences to her family.

  • John Barrett 12th Apr '21 - 6:46pm

    Very, very sad news.

    Remembering Shirley always brings a smile to my face.

    She was always kind and very considerate to me whenever we met. From addressing a packed Usher Hall together in Edinburgh, at a rally demanding a fair deal for pensioners, where everyone, from every and no party, just loved her. To dropping me in it, when she was addressing Liberal Democrats in Edinburgh South, when to my great surprise, she decided to take a break during her speech on the Middle East, and hand over to me to continue on the same subject.

    To the last time I met her at Westminster when she said to me, “When I heard you were standing down, it broke my heart.” She later wrote that same phrase in my copy of her book, Climbing The Bookshelves.

    In Grand National week it’s worth remembering that when the producers whittled down potential child actors to star in their film “National Velvet” that two of the few finalists were – Shirley and Elizabeth Taylor.

    She may not have made a career in the movies, but she was a star.

  • One of my absolute heroes. I shall always remember her encouragement when – as one of the last dozen seats whose ‘ownership’ was negotiated between the SDP and the Liberals before the 1983 general election – Finchley stayed with the Liberals and I carried on as our opponent to Margaret Thatcher. Since then our paths crossed on many occasions; she was always friendly, always encouraging, as tough as they came, and never in the least bothered about what she looked like (which was immensely reassuring to the natural scruff that I still am). And she was a huge help to things like the 300 Group, Women into Public Life and the Fawcett Society. One of the best people I’ve had the privilege of knowing.

  • Bill le Breton 12th Apr '21 - 7:20pm

    Shirley Williams had an enormous thirst for evidence. You might receive a call from her. “I get the impression X is the case/happening. Would I be right?” You might term them ‘inklings’. Ten minutes later your evidence had been taken down. You were treated during those minutes as if she telephoned you every day, but it may have been five years since the last call. The ‘inkling’ penetratingly accurate, shrewd and involving. The familiarity was seductive. Evidence was genuinely the tool of her trade.

  • I think it fair to say in retrospect that the MORI opinion poll of 14 December 1981 showing the Alliance on 50.5% was a rogue poll. It was sandwiched between two MORI polls showing the Alliance on 33% (3 December 1981) and 34% (31 January 1982).

    Nevertheless the Alliance were riding high at the end of 1981 after Shirley’s win in Crosby and indeed Bill Pitt’s win in Croydon North West for the Liberals just before that and were leading in the polls averaging about 40%.

    This did though change in the Spring 1982 when the three parties were on roughly a third of vote of each. Of the 5 polls held in February and March 1982 – BEFORE the invasion of the Falklands the Tories led in three, the Alliance in two, and Labour in two (it was tied either with the Tories or the Alliance)

    Indeed in one the Tories got 41% – just shy of the 42.4% it got in the General Election (although this was Mori again and probably overstated the Tories this time).

    It is therefore quite plausible that the Tories would have gone to win the 1983 election anyway without the Falklands with a recovering economy and memories of Labour’s “winter of discontent” still fresh in people’s minds.

    Professor Vernon Bogdanor has written “The Conservatives recovered [in 1983], partly as a result of the Falklands’ factor following the victorious Falklands War in 1982, but probably more, in my opinion, as a result of economic improvement, slow though it was, while Labour held together.”


    It may be though that the “Falklands Factor” denied the Alliance any more by-election wins until Bermondsey just before the 1983 General Election – although they mostly fell in not the best territory for them. The (possible) exception being Mitcham and Morden where the Labour MP Bruce Douglas-Mann uniquely resigned his seat after he had joined the SDP to get a mandate in his new colours and was roundly defeated by the Tories buoyed by the Falklands. And even the Tories had recovered – they would not have reached the heights of nearly 50% in Summer 1982 and by-election wins might have kept the Alliance poll rating buoyant.

  • David Evans 13th Apr '21 - 4:31pm

    Shirley was a wonderful lady and we were lucky enough to have her stay with us for a couple of nights when she visited Holehird, a stamping ground of her youth. An interesting time, when we nearly lost her on the train between Oxenholme and Kendal, but I found her, about half an hour later, waiting patiently at the end of the line in Windermere.

    She will be sadly missed.

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