Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby

Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby


honorific-prefix = The Right Honourable
name = Shirley Williams
honorific-suffix =
Baroness Williams of Crosby, PC
birth_date = birth date and age|1930|07|27|df=y
birth_place = London, UK
office = Paymaster General
term_start = 10 September 1976
term_end = 4 May 1979
primeminister = James Callaghan
predecessor = Edmund Dell
successor = Angus Maude
office2 = Secretary of State for Education and Science
term_start2 = 10 September, 1976
term_end2 = 4 May 1979
primeminister2 = James Callaghan
predecessor2 = Fred Mulley
successor2 = Mark Carlisle
office3 = Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection
term_start3 = 28 February 1974
term_end3 = 8 April 1976
primeminister3 = Harold Wilson
predecessor3 = "office created"
successor3 = Roy Hattersley
alma_mater = nowrap|Somerville College, Oxford
occupation = Journalist
party = Labour Party (1964 - 1981) SDP (1981 - 1988) Liberal Democrats(1988 - present)

Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby PC (born 27 July 1930), is a British politician and academic. Originally a Labour Member of Parliament (MP), she was one of the "Gang of Four" rebels who founded the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. [The SDP later merged with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats.] In 2001-2004, she served as Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, and now serves as an Advisor on Nuclear Proliferation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Williams also serves as Emeritus Professor of Electoral Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Early life

Born Shirley Vivien Teresa Brittain Catlin, Williams is the daughter of political scientist and philosopher Sir George Catlin, and renowned pacifist and writer Vera Brittain. She was educated at Talbot Heath School in Bournemouth, Dorset, and Somerville College, Oxford. After graduation, she began her career as a journalist. She also was a Fulbright Scholar and studied at Columbia University in New York City.

Member of Parliament

At the 1964 general election, Williams was elected as Labour MP for the constituency of Hitchin in Hertfordshire, and rose quickly to a junior ministerial position. Between 1971 and 1973 she served as shadow Home Secretary. In 1974 she became Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection under Harold Wilson, and, when Wilson was succeeded in 1976 by James Callaghan, she became Secretary of State for Education and Paymaster General, two cabinet positions held at the same time.

Creating the SDP

Williams lost her seat to Bowen Wells in the Labour Party general-election defeat of 1979 (her seat was renamed Hertford and Stevenage in 1974). In 1981, unhappy with the influence of the far left in the Labour Party, she resigned from it to form the SDP, along with Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rodgers. Later that year, following the death of Conservative Sir Graham Page, she won a by-election in Crosby in Merseyside, becoming the first elected SDP MP.

General Election defeat and after

Despite becoming SDP President, she lost her seat in the 1983 general election. She then stood for Cambridge in the 1987 general election, but lost to the Conservative candidate. Williams supported the SDP's 1988 merger with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats. Also during this time, Williams served as a BBC broadcaster on "In Conversation with Shirley Williams" and has appeared on many television and radio programmes, including as a commentator on BBC's "Question Time" more than any other panelist.

In 1988, Williams moved to the United States, to serve as a full professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government until 2001 and thereafter as Public Service Professor of Electoral Politics, Emerita.However, she remained active in politics and public service in the UK, USA, and internationally. Williams helped draft constitutions in Russia, Ukraine, and South Africa; served as director of Harvard's "Project Liberty", an initiative designed to assist the emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe; as UN Special Representative to the former Yugoslavia; and as a member of the European Union's "Comite des Sages", among other top policy positions. Upon her elevation to the House of Lords in 1993, however, she returned to the UK to continue public life.

Life peer

Williams was awarded a life peerage with the title The Baroness Williams of Crosby, PC, in 1993 and subsequently served as Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords from 2001 to 2004.

Among other nonprofit boards, Williams serves on the council of management of the Ditchley Foundation, and on the advisory councils of the Institute for Public Policy Research, (USA) the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Chatham House (president), the Twentieth Century Fund, and the Washington-based think-tank Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).

In June 2007, after Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as Prime Minister, Williams conditionally accepted a formal Government position as Advisor on Nuclear Proliferation provided she could serve as an independent advisor. The Office of Prime Minister is currently reviewing her conditions.

Personal life

Williams has been married twice. In 1955, she married the philosopher Sir Bernard Williams. The marriage was dissolved in 1974. In 1987, she married the Harvard professor and presidential historian Richard E. Neustadt. Neustadt died in 2003.

Baroness Williams, among other ongoing activities, is reportedly working on her autobiography.

In the media

Williams was interviewed about the rise of Thatcherism for the 2006 BBC TV documentary series "Tory! Tory! Tory!".

Further reading

Shirley Williams has published several books including:
* "God and Caesar: Personal Reflections on Politics and Religion" (2003)
* "New Party - The New Technology" (1988)
* "A Job to Live" (1985)
* "Politics is for People" (1981)

There is a substantial article on Shirley Williams by Phillip Whitehead in the "Dictionary of Labour Biography", by Greg Rosen (ed), Politicos Publishing, 2001.


External links

* [ Baroness Williams of Crosby] (profile on the Liberal Democrats' website)

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