Former Labour cabinet secretary and Liberal Democrat life peer Baroness Shirley Williams has died today at the age of 90.
Williams was one of the original “gang of four” that broke with the Labour Party in 1981 to create the Social Democrat Party (SDP), after unhappiness with Labour’s left-wing turn under Michael Foot.
The SDP went on to form the Liberal Democrats after merging with the Liberal Party.
Williams was prices and consumer competition secretary from 1974 to 1976 in Harold Wilson’s government and then education secretary between 1976 and 1979 in Jim Callaghan’s government.
She was a lifelong supporter of the European Union and spent her last years campaigning for the UK to remain in the bloc.
Responding to the news, Liberal Democrat leader Sir 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.
“Rest in peace, Shirley. My thoughts and prayers are with your family and your friends.”
Williams was elected as a Labour MP for Hitchin the 1964 election as Labour won power with a slim majority under Harold Wilson.
She sat as an MP for the next 15 years and climbed the ranks to sit in the cabinets of Wilson and Jim Callaghan in the 1970s.
She lost her seat in the 1979 election, the constituency had by then changed its name to Hertford and Stevenage, but remained on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC).
Williams went on to spectacularly leave the party along with high-profile Labour politicians Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rodgers to create the SDP.
She won the 1981 by-election with the SDP in the Merseyside constituency of Crosby, before losing it to the Tories in the 1983 election.
She went on to become a life peer, after being nominated by the Liberal Democrats in 1993.
She retired from the Lords in 2016.