LibLink… Shirley Williams on the coalition: Not one bed – two beds

The Guardian today has an interview with Shirley Williams, who at 80, continues to work full-time and is active in questioning the coalition government’s stance on academies, health and Trident:

If you give up what you most care about you start dying. It doesn’t matter what age.

Debate within the coalition on the key issues is a positive thing, insists Williams:

What we have to do is get as much as one possibly can of what Lib Dems believe into the coalition programme. It’s no good simply saying our role is to say no to everything.

Williams admits her surprise that the Liberal Democrats, of whom she was a founder, formed a coalition with the Conservative Party. Indeed, she had warned against such a deal, in the days following the General Election.

It’s a scenario she had simply never considered. “I’m making no bones about this, almost to the very end I argued for there to be a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. But Labour had already turned their mind to how they were going to rebuild – they weren’t interested in a coalition and treated us with considerable contempt.”

Having said this, she accepts that outcome would have made for a government so compromised as to be unworkable, just like the one she served in as a minister in the late 1970s. “And when I realised it wouldn’t work because there wasn’t the majority, my preferred choice – which may have been very irresponsible of me – was for a minority Conservative government.” Why? “It was a slightly selfish position. We wouldn’t have been forced to support things we didn’t agree with. It was about protecting the legacy of the Lib Dems. I didn’t want to see the Lib Dems, who I’ve always regarded as a left-of-centre party, suddenly becoming a right-of-centre party.”

So what is it like to end up in bed with the Tories? “Not one bed,” Williams says sharply. “Two beds.” She pauses. Actually, it’s not always two beds. “I find myself in bed with Ken Clarke on an awful lot of things the public would describe as liberal, and I’m perfectly happy there.” Williams has a way with unintended double entendres.

On keeping in touch with Lib Dem grassroots opinion, her advice to Nick Clegg is to “Listen very closely to what the party tells you and see how far you can go to meet it,” saying that Nick, in fairness, does this a lot. In any case, Williams predicts a lively party conference next month.

You can read the full interview, (including Shirley Williams’ views on academies, health, Trident and civil liberties) in the Guardian.

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Paul McKeown 14th Aug '10 - 6:24pm

    From time to time here one comes across comments from grumpy former Liberals about the merger with the SDP, but the Liberals gained a lot. Shirley Williams would be an adornment to any political party. I always make it a point to read or listen to anything she says and I’m delighted she’s still working at the age of eighty. Good luck to her.

  • Patrick Smith 14th Aug '10 - 8:07pm

    I agree with Paul M and add that Shirley Williams is the apotheosis of Liberalism in both spiritual and practical values that serve the people in the liberal politics that will lessen human inequality in Britain today.

    She is a font and repository of political wisdom and experience as a key foundation stone of Liberal Democracy.

    Shirley Williams is absolutely right that this Government’ must grasp all opportunity for liberal policy belief in the `Coalition Agreement’.

  • Shirley Williams is a reminder that the good things that post-war Labour governments did are just as much the heritage of the Liberal Democrats as they are of the Labour Party. The SDP came out of the Labour Party and merged with the Liberals, so a slice of the old Labour Party (the social democratic, civil libertarian slice) lives on in us.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th Aug '10 - 12:07am

    And evidently – like Charles Kennedy – she was not in favour of a coalition with the Conservatives. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Or maybe not.

  • Talking about making you think: Certain people in and around Number 10 are getting a bit jumpy about the current business secretary, Vince Cable. The word on the street is that he will be ‘encouraged’ to stand as London Mayor in 2012. “He’s too much of an obstical in the Coalition already”. Take note that Boris has yet to throw his hat into the ring…..and the LibDems still haven’t detailed their selection process….It couldn’t have crossed Clegg/Cameron’s thoughts to use ‘one stone’ as it were surely? Maybe thinking out loud should start taking the shape of private walks and talks in the rose garden…..Civil servants have ears and all that.

  • Paul McKeown 15th Aug '10 - 10:06am

    “The word on the street is that he will be ‘encouraged’ to stand as London Mayor in 2012.”

    Sounds more like an attempt to start a baseless internet rumour than anything else. I see you were peddling the same muck on LabourList.

    The whole idea is stupid in the extreme. The Liberal Democrats are not going to have a London Mayor elected, no matter who they put up for the job. They have precious few MPs and even fewer with the capacity to function effectively as a cabinet minister. No one within the LDs is campaigning for Vince Cable as Mayor, leastwise no one with two brain cells to rub together. I could imagine, though, some Tory malcontents or some scheming Labourite would be sabouteurs salivating over the idea.

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