Shirley Williams to retire from the Lords, 51 years after she was first elected as an MP

Shirley WilliamsThere are few people who have inspired me more than Shirley Williams. In 1981, 14 year old Caron watched her talk about scaling unscaleable heights and just taking opportunities when they present themselves. That was before she put herself up to stand in a by-election in a seat with a whacking great Tory majority. She won, of course, in Crosby in 1981.

Today, it’s been announced that she is retiring from the House of Lords. We certainly can’t grudge her her retirement.She’s 85 years old, after all, and she’s still been a thoughtful and powerful presence in the Chamber.

Tonight, Tim Farron will speak at an event to honour her 51 years of public service. She was first elected as an MP in 1964.

The party is going to miss her so much. Conference still loves her. This September, she was very influential in persuading Conference to back the leadership’s proposal for yet another fudge on nuclear weapons and did so in a much more conciliatory, thoughtful and wise way than some in the debate.

I will never forget the day she came to Dunfermline during the independence referendum. She could fairly draw a crowd, and even people from the Yes campaign were coming over to talk to her. At one point she held the hand of one woman who expressed her disappointment with the coalition. It was a moment of togetherness in a divisive campaign.

Shirley has been travelling across the country for years supporting candidates with great energy. I hope that she might find time to do a little bit more of that during the upcoming Scottish and Welsh campaigns.

I might not agree with her on every issue, but she’s been a key influence and motivation on my politics and my way of thinking and I owe her an awful lot for that. Thanks, Shirley, and have a wonderful retirement.

Liberal Democrat reaction

And this is how rumours start.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Eddie Sammon 17th Dec '15 - 7:48pm

    I remember I watched a Question Time once just because Shirley was on it. Best of luck to her and thanks for her service!

  • Essentially, she’s the reason I joined the SDP. I couldn’t believe that Labour was arguing amongst itself whilst Thatcher was tearing our society apart. I thought Britain needs a left of centre alternative. I was umming and aahing about joining the Liberals, but when I realised Shirley was one of the Gang of Four forming the SDP, I thought, that’s it. It’s the SDP for me. The rest is history. I suspect I’ve delivered hundreds of thousands of leaflets, if not millions since. I’ve sat through many tedious meetings listening to crusty old Tories or ineffective Labourites rambling on and on. I’ve dealt with tens of thousands of items of casework as a Borough Councillor. If I’ve helped improve someone’s life, it’s all been worth it. When a good social liberal like Shirley speaks, I know it is.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Dec '15 - 8:01pm

    “People have been doing something called ‘Keeping your heads down. Well, it is time to stick your heads up..'”

  • So Shirley has decided to join the small group (circa 33) who have benefited from David Steel’s Lords Reform Act 2014, which whilst seemingly small and insignificant is slowing making an impact; unlike the grandiose proposals for wholesale reform…

    I note that David Steel is now proposing that all peers aged over 80 at the end of each Parliament should retire, allowing for the membership of the HoL’s to be refreshed without excessively increasing their number. I suspect this measure stands a good chance of becoming law by 2020…

  • One of my favourite parts of Conference this year involved Shirley as well – notably, the sharp intake of breath when Andrew Wiseman asked her to stand by to speak on Trident.

  • I owe a great deal to Shirley Williams – she is an inspiration. Along with Roy Jenkins she was a hero of mine long before she left Labour.

    I found myself sitting next to her at a dinner – not a Lib Dem event as it happens – and we were chatting about the challenges for women trying to catch-up with their careers after a child break and becoming candidates at the same time. I was trying to decide whether to stand for Council at the time. She said “Just do it”, so I did and I was a councillor within the year, thanks to an unexpected by-election.

  • Caron, WELL DONE.I , too am in my late forties, and Shirley Williams has inspired me since the very same sort of age as you . She is , I think , one of the finest in politics , ever . As with Eddie , above , how many times have we seen her on television as the best exponent of our cause . And it is ours . Both Liberal and social democratic, lest any of the few , who still rather meanly disparage the SDP contribution to our party s development care to yet . She proves the Lords is still an asset , too , yes we must democratize, lets not destroy it . Sal Brinton is , I think wrong , some should never retire, certainly not at eighty , we would n t have had a few recent years of Shirley !!!

  • phil mclellan 18th Dec '15 - 1:38am

    I have never met Shirley Williams but I too joined the SDP because of her. She should have been the leader as she was incredibly popular, clever and with an ability to communicate. Perhaps time for me to follow her into retirement. Thank you for all you have done for our party.

  • I liked it when she helped pass the Health & Social Care Act, and told everyone there was nothing to worry about.

  • @Ian Sanderson – I agree and also have mixed views on compulsory retirement and note that effectively David Steel has given notice that he will be stepping down in May 2020.

  • A hero and national treasure. They don’t seem to make ’em like they used to, I’m sure she’ll be thoroughly missed!

  • Katerina Porter 18th Dec '15 - 3:22pm

    She will be terribly missed, of such stature, of so many human and humane qualiries

    She will be terribly missed, of such stature, and human and humane quality.

  • Katerina Porter 18th Dec '15 - 3:24pm

    sorry about the duplicate

  • Leekliberal 18th Dec '15 - 5:17pm

    I have been ‘in love’ with Shirley all my political life. Nobody, not even my other hero, Roy Jenkins, had her facility to articulate so elegantly what I felt about the great issues. Thank you Shirley for so illuminating my time in politics!

  • Matt (Bristol) 18th Dec '15 - 5:37pm

    I love Adam Clarke’s insinuation about Shirley managing Chelsea. I would pay to watch.

  • Chris Rennard 18th Dec '15 - 6:12pm

    I posted this on my Facebook page this morning and I am sure that a lot of Lib Dems agree that we should have put Shirley into the Cabinet in 2010:

    Wonderful to be at ‘surprise’ party at the Speaker’s apartments last night to mark Shirley Williams impending retirement from the House of Lords. I was Chair of the Liverpool University Liberals when I helped her campaign to win the Crosby by-election in November 1981. The Liberal SDP Alliance then went to over 50% in the national opinion polls – those were the days! I admire Shirley Williams more than any other British politician – she is one of the people I am proudest to have worked with.

    Bill Rodgers (who was described last night as her first boyfriend) spoke brilliantly of their days together in the Oxford University Labour Club in 1949. I know that Bill actually worked for the Liberals in the 1945 General Election – working out of the same office in Liverpool (known as the Garmoyle) which was later the HQ where I worked for the Liverpool Edge Hill by-election in 1979 and my office when I was the agent for David Alton in 1983. He and Shirley showed great moral courage and skill in forming the SDP and then helping to form the Liberal Democrats.

    Nick Clegg spoke movingly about Shirley’s career and commitment and admitted that she had been right to oppose Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill. I spent time persuading her to stay in the party to oppose this as it was originally drafted, rather then leave for the Crossbenchers as she considered doing.

    We should have put Shirley in the Cabinet in 2010. She had previous Cabinet experience. We have many achievements of which to be proud from the period 2010 – 2015, but there might have been more of them with Shirley more at the centre of the government and I believe that we might have made fewer mistakes and made our case more effectively if she had been more prominent in fronting them.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Dec '15 - 7:23pm

    Roland 17th Dec ’15 – 8:41pm Age is not the major factor. Health is.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Dec '15 - 7:30pm

    Plewase see Shirley Williams memoirs. There were boundary changes before the 1983 general elelction. The Tory and Labour parties both submitted evidence about Crosby. An (out of date ) assumption was that if the Tories and Labour agreed there was no problem, whereas the two largest parties were conniving against the Liberal-SDP Alliance.

  • Richard Fagence 18th Dec '15 - 9:03pm

    Nearly twenty years ago at conference, I sat on the stairs with a coffee following a debate I really hadn’t understood. I felt someone sit down beside me. Ten minutes later I understood. Her ability to make complex issues simple is still unrivalled and she paid me the compliment of assuming I was as clever as she was! She was – and is – wrong on that, but I still cherish the occasion. A long and happy retirement, Shirley.

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