Tag Archives: shirley williams

Tonight, 8pm, BBC Parliament – Conversation with Shirley Williams

Shirley Williams is probably my biggest political hero. It was she who inspired me in 1981 when she fought the Crosby by-election. Her sharp intellect, indefatigable energy and ability to communicate with her audience have all made sure that she is loved by many of all political persuasions.

She came up to Scotland during the last few days of the horribly divisive independence referendum in 2014. It was a painful time. However, as Shirley stepped on to Dunfermline High Street, one of the Yes campaigners came across and took her hand and said how much she had always admired her. It was a rare moment of togetherness during that most unpleasant of campaigns.

I was distraught that I missed her when she came up to Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire during the General Election. At 86, she was still supporting and helping other women get to Westminster. 

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New Year Honours: Congratulations to Liberal Democrats

Late last night we published the news that Shirley Williams has been made a Companion of Honour in the New Year Honours.

But she is not the only Lib Dem to be honoured today.

 

Sir Steve Webb – as we will now know him – has been claimed by many to be the best Pensions Minister the country has known. Before his Parliamentary career he was Professor of Social Policy at the University of Bath, so had an unprecedented level of knowledge and understanding in his field of expertise.

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LibLink: Shirley Williams: Bring all sides together to negotiate our future with Europe

While Tory and Labour parties rip themselves apart, the Liberal Democrats have spent a great deal of time offering ideas and solutions. The latest is Shirley Williams in today’s Observer:

She succinctly sums up the mess we are in:

With every passing day, the problems confronting the new prime minister multiply. The balance of payments worsens, the pound sinks against the dollar, the London property market, no longer attractive to ambitious young bankers and financial experts, declines and Brexit begins to look more and more like snake oil.

How do we face those challenges? Well, it needs strong government and opposition:

To get through the business of negotiating an alternative to membership of the European Union, and to do so without our country falling apart, will require patience, tolerance of different and often strongly held views and good, grown-up government. None of these were evident in the bitter, brutal referendum debate. We need not just good government but a serious, responsible opposition as well.

She draws parallels with the mess of the Labour Party in the 80s.

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Shirley on peace and economic prosperity that EU offers

Shirley Williams has been out and about campaigning for us to stay in the EU in the same way as she campaigned for Scotland to see in the UK. She took part in a question and answer session in Wales based around the question “What has the EU done for us?”

Shirley’s answer was clear. She talked about how the EU had secured the peace in Europe:

The main motivation behind the EU was to end wars in Europe after the horror of two world wars and for 71 years we have not had any wars in the territory covered by the EU governments,

She said that the campaign had become too personal and vicious, deviating from what actually matters:

One aspect of it I deeply regret is that it has been much too personal,” she said. “Much too bitchy and in many ways much too involved in one issue – that is, who is going to be the next Prime Minister of this country.

I think that’s a great pity as this is a very crucial issue – they have been few more crucial since the WW2. Whatever side of the argument we are on it is a travesty and a shame to allow it to become a slanging match between two sides of one party, which is essentially what it has become. The debate has been less impressive than it should have been and we have heard too few voices saying pretty much the same things.

Then she talked of the importance of being in on the discussions, working out with our neighbours how to deal with the huge challenges of the day – and cited the Paris climate change talks as an example of what can be achieved.

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ICYMI: Shirley Williams speaking on the EU at the National Liberal Club

On Monday, Shirley Williams came out of retirement to give a speech on why Britain should remain in the EU at the National Liberal Club.

The party made very good use of Facebook Live to broadcast the event – and you can watch the speech again here.

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Watch: Shirley Williams on retirement and how the government’s attitude to junior doctors could break NHS

Shirley on Victoria DerbyshireOn Thursday, her last day in the House of Lords before her retirement, Shirley Williams spent 20 minutes talking to Victoria Derbyshire.

You can watch the conversation, which covered women in politics, social media (she thinks that “the cruellest people in society” shouldn’t be given a voice), how some were bemused by her specialism in fields not traditionally done by women, such as nuclear proliferation, how we should take thousands of refugee children and relived the previous struggle over Ugandan refugees in the 70s when she stuck to her guns.

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Shirley Williams’ impression of Donald Trump

This little gem is from last Friday’s PM on Radio 4 and probably means that my licence fee has been well worth it for these 90 seconds of Shirley wit alone. Enjoy:


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Shirley Williams makes her final speech in the Lords

I was out and about yesterday and ended up being marooned in Glasgow and not getting home till late so I missed Shirley’s final speech in the House of Lords. She has been a giant of common sense and wisdom and one of my political heroes from the moment I first realised politics was a thing. This is a speech that you have to watch as well as read for all sorts of reasons, the interaction with David Steel being one, so thank goodness the BBC have provided an embeddable version.

She talks about the great institutions of the BBC, the NHS and the EU and how important they are to our national life. Two of them didn’t even exist when she was born.

Heaven knows she deserves her retirement at 85 and we all wish her well, but we are so going to miss her regular contributions to the Lords. However, it looks like she will be campaigning in the EU Referendum, which is great news as her contributions were one of the very few high spots of the Scottish Referendum on independence.

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Dick Newby writes….Limehouse at 35

2016-01-20 13.51.09

35 years on from the Limehouse Declaration and the launch of the SDP it’s easy to see the similarities. We have a Labour Party with a very left wing leader pushing ideologically driven policies and zero prospect of winning the next election. And we have a Conservative Party which is pursuing harsh economic policies at home and is split down the middle over the UK’s relationship with the EU.

But if there are similarities with 1981 there are even more differences. Britain is now a very different place socially and economically. It is much more ethnically diverse, particularly in the large cities. It is far less deferential and far fewer people have a strong party loyalty. It is also much more affluent – the average household is now earns twice as much as it did in 1981 – and unemployment and inflation are both much lower.

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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.

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LibLink: Shirley Williams tells George Osborne that he has 10 days to save the NHS

 

Writing in the Guardian, Shirley Williams picks up the baton passed on by Nigel Crisp, the former chief executive of the NHS, who four years ago wrote about his experiences in his book 24 Hours to Save the NHS.

Shirley explains that many of the financial woes in the NHS have been inherited from past schemes:

For example, the number of funded places for young men and women training in this country as nurses was cut by 12% – 2,500 places – in 2012. The consequent shortage of newly qualified nurses has been filled by people recruited by employment agencies. The cost of agency staff is one of the main reasons for overspending by NHS trusts. In 2014/15, agency staff cost the NHS £1,770m, a year-on-year increase of 29%.

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LibLink: Shirley Williams: American democracy is up for sale and it’s a warning to us all

Shirley Williams has been writing for the Independent about the pernicious influence of big money in politics in the US. She writes about the huge amounts of money being poured into Republican campaigns, how this clearly gives them advantages in access to the voters through the media. More worryingly, she outlines what appears to be a strategic approach of using the courts to abolish funding limits and of gerrymandering congressional districts to again give themselves an advantage at the expense of others.

She gives a very stark warning about why this is a bad thing. We need to think that we have a realistic chance of getting rid of our government if we don’t like them. A politics where you have to have the backing of the stinking rich to succeed is not exactly likely to benefit all and will lead to disillusionment:

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Shirley Williams highlights SNP’s failings in government

SCaron and Shirleyhirley Williams has written to the Times (£) to highlight that the SNP has not been as successful in government as it would like people to believe. She highlights failures on student debt, class sizes, the NHS and, importantly for anyone of a liberal mindset, its many failings on civil liberties.Here’s her letter:

The election campaign in the United Kingdom has been seriously impoverished by the absence of any detailed analysis south of the border of the SNP’s record in government.

Today the Scottish NHS is in crisis, with targets for cancer treatments not being met. More than 1,000 beds have been closed in Scottish hospitals since 2012. Last year, expenditure on the NHS in Scotland fell by 1.2 per cent while in England it rose by 4.4 per cent. Expenditure on training nurses and midwives in Scotland has been cut by 11 per cent.

In education, the SNP pledged to limit primary school class sizes to a maximum of 18 — a pledge it made when it first came into government in 2007. In fact, class sizes have risen in every year since 2010.

University students have been saddled with greater debt because they have to start repaying their loans once their incomes reach £16,500, while the figure in England is now £21,000. Worst of all, part-time college places have been cut by 130,000 — a travesty at a time when the UK needs skilled women and men to get the economy back on track. The SNP has not even met its unambitious target to build 6,000 affordable homes, despite the obvious need.

Additionally, the SNP’s troubling record on civil liberties has been further extended by its efforts to build an identity database based on NHS records. Its creation of a single national police force has been to the detriment of local policing and communities they serve; Highlanders have been aghast at the sight of armed police undertaking routine duties on their streets. It is a bigger insult that local communities’ calls to reverse the policy were ignored.

The SNP now seeks to present itself as a party with a strong interest in the future of the UK. Its own record makes that very hard to believe.

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Shirley Williams on the campaign trail: Vikki Slade is a worthy successor to Annette Brooke

Shirley Williams may be approaching her 85th birthday, but she is putting a massive effort into campaigning around the country and her energy puts most of us to shame. This is a very good thing as she’s still one of the country’s most popular political figures. Last September, she wowed Dunfermline and, for me, one of the most poignant moments of the referendum campaign was when she took the hand of a Yes campaigner in the street. She spoke at Tim Farron’s adoption meeting recently and last week was at the other end of England, endorsing Vikki Slade’s Mid Dorset and North Poole constituency.

From the Bournemouth Echo:

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Who’s the woman who has inspired you most?

Caron and ShirleyIt’s International Women’s Day today and on Twitter, there’s been an #inspiredby meme on Twitter where we have to say which women have inspired us.

I went a bit mad, as you can see from my Twitter feed. I’ve been lucky enough to know so many fabulous women in politics from all parties that if I started writing about them now, I’d still be here this time next week. And that would just be politics. So I’m going to limit myself to just two.

The first is someone who was my first political hero, ever since she made that speech at that first SDP conference where she talked about being required to scale unscaleable heights as she announced her candidacy for the Crosby by-election. She’s done so much to advance and advocate women’s rights internationally. She was a minister in a world where it was ok for interviewers like Robin Day to compliment female MPs on their outfits and say how pretty they looked. She was brave enough to recognise that she and the Labour Party had come to the end of the road and to branch out in a new direction when the SDP was formed. Her energy even now, at the age of 84, is incredible. It was fantastic to have her come to Scotland for the best part of the last 10 days of the referendum campaign last year. She was filling halls and winning debates right up till the last minute. I found it quite emotional to see a Yes campaigner come up to her on Dunfermline High Street and say that she’d been her hero all her life too. I’m talking of course about Shirley Williams. She’s had such a fascinating life. It must have been so hard to have been uprooted and sent to strangers across the Atlantic during the War, thousands of miles from her parents but she threw herself into that experience. As she grew up she met some of the most progressive thinkers of her day.

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Shirley Williams on A life in politics

The Daily Politics has been running a series of interviews with political figures in their A Life in Politics series.

This week it was Shirley Williams talking about her varied career and personal life. Look back not he formation of the SDP, her passion for education reform and the prospects for the Liberal Democrats in the election, saying “we’re bound to be a main factor in another coalition.” Oh, and don’t call her indecisive.

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Shirley Williams talks about the new film based on the life of her mother, Vera Brittain

Baroness Shirley Williams has been speaking to the Telegraph on the occasion of the release of a film based on her mother, Vera Brittain’s memoir, Testament of Youth:

Baroness Williams has praised her mother Vera Brittain’s lifelong efforts as a pacifist, saying her only regret is that “she wasn’t here when we fought against the Iraq war.”

The 84-year-old Lib Dem grandee spoke about her mother at the premiere of the film adaptation of Brittain’s First World War memoir, Testament of Youth.

She said of the writer, feminist and campaigner who died in 1970: “She never gave up. She was as much against the Vietnam War as she was against the First World War.”

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LibLink: Shirley Williams: How Scotland could lead the way towards a federal UK

Shirley WilliamsThe Guardian posted an article by Shirley Williams yesterday, in which she writes:

The referendum decision will come at the culmination of a long period of disillusionment with politicians. The SNP, like the other mainstream parties, has attracted its own share of public frustration about centralisation and the excessive rule of Edinburgh over other regions of Scotland. Nationally, the disillusionment began with the poll tax, the decline of manufacturing in Scotland, Wales, the Midlands and the north of England during the Thatcher years, the failure of our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial crisis in 2008 which loaded on taxpayers the huge costs of bailing out the banks.

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Shirley Williams wows Dunfermline – in pictures

Shirley Williams has been an absolute star these last few days. She came to Scotland on Thursday and will be here until Tuesday night. She’s already travelled the length of the country. She spoke at the Liberal Democrat rally on Thursday night, went to Orkney for a hugely well attended debate on Friday night and was back in Fife yesterday afternoon.

She spoke to voters on the High Street where both campaigns were out in force. I’m sure the Yes campaigner with the megaphone who yelled out “Bow down to your Imperial Overlords” as we all assembled for a photo.

Shirley group photo Dunfermline

 

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LDVideo: “Hypocrites, idealists and liars – can politics be sincere?” – watch Shirley Williams debate with George Galloway and Peter Oborne

Recently, Shirley Williams took part in a debate held by the Institute of Arts and Ideas, on the subject of sincerity in politics. Also participating were George Galloway, Peter Oborne and Philip Collins, speechwriter to Tony Blair.

We must confess to not yet having had the time to watch the whole thing but we like what we have seen, like the bit when Shirley Williams takes Galloway to task for misquoting her and he, who had been in a massive rant about how politicians were a bunch of liars, was forced to admit he’d been exaggerating to make his point.

Shirley talks about how the media contribute to false perceptions of politicians, giving an example of how someone said to her that they could never vote for her because she was all for state education yet sent her son to Eton. Shirley doesn’t have a son.

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LibLink: Shirley Williams on a role for Europe in solving the Gaza crisis

Many thanks to Paul Walter for bringing our attention to this piece, written by Baroness Shirley Williams for the Guardian last week.

In it, she calls for a more activist stance by the European Union, given her view that America is not, and cannot be, an effective mediator between the two sides in the Gaza crisis.

The EU, as the main financier of the Palestinian Authority, is in a position to influence the PLO and to work with the Arab League on a settlement. The US remains Israel’s essential ally, but as a mediator is hobbled by the dependence of its

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LibLink: Shirley Williams “Europe has a duty to Gaza”

Shirley WilliamsWriting in the Guardian today, Shirley Williams says:

The tragedy of the centenary we commemorate this week is that it falls as some of the most brutal and merciless wars of those same hundred years are raging.

She refers to the current conflicts in Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.

Attacks on Belgian and French civilians, including children, by Germany’s invading army in August 1914 shocked the public and politicians in Britain and elsewhere into intervening, and many individual men into enlisting – so much so that

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Are the Liberal Democrats any closer to embracing all-women shortlists?

Womens shortlistsIt’s nearly 31 years since I joined the SDP. When I was first involved, a hot topic of conversation was how to improve the representation of women in the House of Commons. At that point, there were just 23 female MPs, or 3.5% of the total.  We are still having these discussions today. Now there are 22%, but the total has only risen by 4% in the last 3 elections. The biggest leap we have ever had came in 1997 when the numbers doubled from 60-120, with more than half …

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Nigel, Newark and Nostalgia

Newark CastleOne of my earliest political memories is the moment when Shirley Williams got up at Bradford in 1981 and announced that she would be a candidate in the Crosby by-election. Her talk of how sometimes in politics it was necessary to take risks, to “scale unscalable heights” gave the 14 year old me goosebumps. It was all very much “stand up for what you believe in, take risks, go and change the world” motivation.

Decades later, Shirley wrote about her decision to stand for Crosby in her excellent autobiography, Climbing the …

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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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