Shirley Williams

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Shirley_Williams.jpg
The Baroness Williams of Crosby

Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby, PC (born July 27, 1930), is a British politician. Originally a Labour MP, she was one of the Gang of Four rebels who founded the now-defunct SDP (Social Democratic Party) in 1981. She was the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, but stepped down from the position at the November 2004 State Opening of Parliament.

Born Shirley Vivien Teresa Brittain, Williams was the daughter of Vera Brittain, and began her career as a journalist, having graduated from Somerville College, Oxford (where she arrived some years after her political rival Margaret Thatcher). In 1955, she married philosopher Bernard Williams. She became a Labour MP for the Hertfordshire constituency of Hitchin in 1964, and rose quickly to a junior ministerial position. In 1974, she became Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection under Harold Wilson, and, when Wilson was replaced in 1976 by James Callaghan, she became Secretary of State for Education. In 1974, she divorced Bernard Williams, but continued to be known by her married name. Shirley Williams' "untidy" image endeared her to many women, and she was still regarded as a future Labour leader.

The Labour Party lost the 1979 general election, and she lost her seat. In 1981, unhappy with the influence of the far left, she resigned from the party along with Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rodgers, to form the SDP. Later that year she won the by-election in Crosby in Merseyside, becoming the first person elected as an SDP MP.

Despite becoming President of the new party, she lost her seat in the 1983 general election. The party merged with the Liberal Party in 1988, and she supported the change. She married Harvard academic Richard Neustadt, moved to the USA, and effectively retired from active politics. She returned to politics as a life peer with the title Baroness Williams of Crosby in 1993, and was Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords from 2001 to 2004. She is on the Advisory Council of the Institute for Public Policy Research.

She made her last speech as her party's leader in the House of Lords at the Liberal Democrat party conference in autumn 2004, to rapturous applause.


Preceded by:
Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection
1974–1976
Succeeded by:
Roy Hattersley
Preceded by:
Frederick Mulley
Secretary of State for Education and Science
1976–1979
Succeeded by:
Mark Carlisle
Preceded by:
Edmund Dell
Paymaster-General
1976–1979
Succeeded by:
Angus Maude

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