Former cabinet minister and Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams – one of the “Gang of Four” who defected from Labour in the early 1980s – has died aged 90.
Baroness Williams of Crosby – whose long parliamentary career began when she was first elected an MP in 1964 – was said to have “died peacefully” in the early hours of Monday, according to a Lib Dem spokeswoman.
Tributes have poured in for the “the undisputed godmother of the Liberal Democrats”, who spent more than half a century in Westminster politics.
Lib Dem 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.”
Baroness Williams first entered parliament as Labour MP for Hitchin in 1964, after which she went on to serve in Harold Wilson’s governments in the late 1960s and mid-1970s.
She served in Mr Wilson’s cabinet and, when he was succeeded as Labour leader and prime minister by James Callaghan, Baroness Williams served as education secretary until 1979.
But, at that year’s general election, she lost her seat in the House of Commons.
And, less than two years later, Baroness Williams and three other former Labour cabinet ministers defected from the party to found the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981.
The “Gang of Four”, as they became known, were unhappy with Labour’s move to the political left under Michael Foot, who was a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and wanted Britain to withdraw from the European Economic Community.
They also bemoaned how “a handful of trade union leaders can now dictate the choice of a future prime minister”.
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