SHIRLEY Williams was a deceptively soft-spoken, mild-mannered and unlikely renegade. Yet in 1981 she came within a whisker of destroying the Labour Party she had loved and served all her political life. One of the true political heavyweights of her age, and a pioneer of women's ascent to high office, "Shirl the Girl", who died yesterday aged 90 , was a much-loved woman with a fascinating private life. As one of the rebel "Gang of Four" she launched the sensational revolt against unelectable leftie leader Michael Foot in a desperate bid to "break the mould of British politics". With ex-Cabinet heavy-weights Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rodgers she launched the Social Democratic Party, capturing millions of votes from disenchanted Labour supporters. At one point it seemed the SDP would eclipse Labour and steal its role as a potential party of government. Instead it ground to a stand-still and eventually merged with the Liberal Party, now reduced to half a dozen MPs. Mrs Williams retired to the House of Lords as Baroness Williams of Crosby. But the impact of her Gang of Four was enduring. Their revolt, seen as treachery by fellow Labour MPs at the time, forced a titanic… Read full this story
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