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Personal reflections on the passing of Shirley Williams

April 28, 2021 4:03 PM
By Mark Roberts, Liberal Democrat Unitary Candidate for Amersham & Chesham Bois

During my growing years in the 1970s, Shirley Williams was already one of the 'big beasts' of politics so when I started getting interested in politics she became a huge influence on me.

I started following political events during the 1970s: during the miners strike, joining the EEC, the '74 elections, the economic struggles of the Labour government, the winter of discontent, the election of Thatcher in 1979. And throughout that she was a constant voice of wisdom and sense.

Then in 1981 Shirley Williams along with the other members of the Gang of Four made the Limehouse Declaration and left Labour to form the Social Democratic Party.

For me this was a critical moment, I saw what was happening and what they announced and thought "YES! These are my values, this is what I believe in too".

So on my first day at Uni in 1981 I joined the SDP and got involved in political campaigning. In November 1981 she stood in the Crosby by-election and I trekked off in a minibus with a group of fellow students to tramp the streets of Crosby delivering leaflets and knocking on doors. I was able to meet and speak with her briefly and she made a great impression on me. And so for me that turned out not to be the first time visiting byelections for the SDP-Alliance , it set the scene for repeated treks in the same minibus to byelections, in Mitcham and Morden, Birmingham Northfield, Peckham and Bermondsey.

Those were heady days of success and ambition.

Shirley Williams was a fantastic advocate for young people's involvement in politics. So it was no surprise when we needed a big name speaker to combat Labour's annual visit by Tony Benn to the Student's Union. She came up trumps and offered to speak on behalf of University SDP Society and Liberal Club. Over 600 jammed into the hall that day and she gave a great speech; with credibility, intelligence, charm, humour and wisdom. As one of the organisers, I was privileged to spend quite a lot of time with her that day and she was delightful company as well as politically inspiring.

Amongst that cohort of students, two went on to become LibDem MPs and one is now LibDem Mayor of Bath and I know others who, like me. are standing to become councillors. I'm positive that I'm amongst very many people who have been inspired to public service as a result of her influence.

After she retired from party politics she continued to be a well-respected and well-liked public speaker and political commentator, continuing to influence people and politics right up to just a few years ago.

For many us she will forever be remembered fondly and with great respect as one of the towering figures in British politics, one of the most influential women politicians and she will be sorely missed by many.

RIP The Right Hon Baroness Williams of Crosby CH PC