A former education secretary and champion of the comprehensive school system has died aged 90.
Baroness Williams of Crosby – better known as Shirley Williams – was today described as a “trailblazer” for education by House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
And former Labour schools minister Lord Adonis, an architect of the academies movement, said following her death: “I doubt that anyone in politics in the last generation had more friends and admirers, and fewer enemies, than Shirley Williams.”
Shirley Williams: My best teacher
I doubt that anyone in politics in the last generation had more friends and admirers, and fewer enemies, than Shirley Williams— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) April 12, 2021
As a Labour minister, Baroness Williams served in the governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan in the 1970s, rising to become education secretary.
She was known for supporting the comprehensive system and the abolition of grammar schools.
However in 1981, having become disillusioned with Labour’s drift to the left under Michael Foot, she was one of the original “Gang of Four” to leave the party to form the new centrist Social Democratic Party (SDP).
After the SDP failed to make the electoral breakthrough its founders had hoped for, she became an advocate of merger with the Liberals, in what eventually became the Liberal Democrat Party.
In 1993, she was made a life peer, finally retiring as the party’s leader in the House of Lords in 2004.
Speaking after the Liberal Democrat Party announced her death this afternoon, Sir Lindsay said: “Baroness Shirley Williams enjoyed politics massively – it meant the most enormous amount to her – and if she felt she could do some good in the world, she was happy.
“She loved elections – and continued campaigning long after she ceased to be an MP – liking nothing better than engaging in debate with people and politicians.
“She was a trailblazer for women and education, one of the first women to sit in cabinet and the only female member of the ‘Gang of Four’.
“Without doubt, she was one of a kind, and a character we all shall miss.”