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Shirley Williams says there’s a place in the party for me.

December 11th, 2009 Posted in UK Politics by

shirley_williamsI have only met Shirley Williams once, whilst working for Sir Ming Campbell, but I have always deeply admired her. So when I heard her on the radio today talking about her new book “Climbing the bookshelves” on the Simon Mayo show on Radio Five Live I had a thought. There has been much agnst in recent times about “the left” vs the “right” within the party. So why not ask her whether there is a place in this party that I love for free market liberals. (I used the term “free market liberal” because it was radio five and I thought it a more straight forward term than “classical liberal”).

Low and behold five minutes later – there was my question being broadcast across the airwaves. 

And the answer to my question, from Shirley Williams no less, was YES!. The requirement for being a Liberal Democrat is being totally committed to civil liberties and internationally minded; views on the market differ. She did go on to say that given recent events I should rethink my views on the free market – but as far as she is concerned I belong.

Well, I definately tick both boxes on civil liberties andn being internationally minded – so as far as she is concerned I am good to go. Yippee.

You may wonder why I asked the question. Well, I have to confess there are some days when I do doubt whether I fit – these are few however and come largely after aggressive or unpleasant comments from a vocal minority. There are also days when I will shout at the radio, tv or newspaper because of the timidity of our leadership, the confusion over some policy launch, and yes some policy announcement I disagree with. But I doubt I will ever find a party that I agree with entirely on policy or strategy until I start the Angela Harbutt Party (don’t worry – no plans on that score!).

No… the reason I asked the question was because I was pretty sure she would say “yes Angela” there is a place for you. And she did just that. I think it is so easy to focus on the small thinks that divide us and lose sight of the much bigger things that unite us.  Today I feel united.

I will upload the interview, if I can, later this evening. If you can’t wait you can hear the whole of Simon Mayo show here (catch Mark Kermode reviews, interview with Harry Rednap etc …superb programme as ever). The Shirley Williams interview is about 1 hour into the programme.

UPDATE: Ok.. it was a long and wide ranging interview on Radio Five and I struggled – and then gave up – trying to edit it to just ten minutes for YOUTUBE purposes. So I have put up here only Shirley’s answer to my question. I do urge you to listen to the full interview (see above for link to BBC iplayer). If you read post this late or really need the interview sometime in the future when it falls off iplayer, I have captured the full interview so we have it stored and can email it to anyone that asks us for it.

14 Responses to “Shirley Williams says there’s a place in the party for me.”

  1. Michael St George Says:

    Would this be the same “totally committed to civil liberties” Shirley Williams who in the late 1970’s ostentatiously stood on the Grunwick picket line? The picket line notorious for its TUC-backed violence and intimidation in support of the then APEX union’s attempt to force the employers (1) to institute a total closed shop and (2) to recognise APEX as the only negotiating body, despite the fact that only one-third of the workforce were union members?

    Or an entirely different “totally committed to civil liberties” Shirley Williams?

  2. Hywel Says:

    “There are also days when I will shout at the radio, tv or newspaper because of the timidity of our leadership, the confusion over some policy launch, and yes some policy announcement I disagree with.”

    And you think it’s just “you lot” on the right who do that :-)

  3. Ziggy Says:

    I was listening & she told you Angela that maybe you should ghave a serious think about the merits of the ‘free market’.

  4. tim leunig Says:

    You belong – Shirley is right – and as you say, we will never agree on everything.

  5. Tristan Says:

    The usual headbanging from the anti-market left though – blaming all the recent problems on the ‘free market’ despite the whole mess being born of a non-free market with the perverse incentives introduced by reams of regulation and intervention.

    The anti-market right pulled a blinder in convincing everyone that their privilege entrenching anti-market actions and beliefs are ‘free market’. The left then react with more of the same, bringing about yet more inequality and poverty.

    Of course, the true solution is just to have the ‘right people’ in charge doing everything.

  6. Dick Puddlecote Says:

    That was you? Excellent, I heard it live on my shonky van radio … and spluttered at this.

    “The requirement for being a Liberal Democrat is being totally committed to civil liberties”

    Like voting en bloc for the denial of working club members to dictate their own policies, and kicking 10 million people out in the cold with no exemptions, does she mean?

    or all the other staunch LD defences of civil liberties, perhaps?

    And is this the same Shirley Williams who was trying to shut down the option of a grammar school choice when I was being educated pre-teen? (Boy did I notice the irony of context when she spoke of her inspirational school teaching of the works of W H Auden)

    Well done for getting your question aired, AH, and you’re right about the show. Shame about an old soshie saying anything to sell her book. 😉

  7. Ziggy Says:

    Its NOT the free market that Shirl should be blaming but CORPORATISM or as it should be called FASCISM

    “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” – Benito Mussolini

  8. Ben Says:

    The true home for the members of liberal vision is surely the libertarian party; and I could say exactly the same to conservative libertarians and also UKIP libertarians. Why be pushed to the margins in three different parties when you could unite in one?

    The obvious problem is that LPUK is too new, it lacks funds, it lacks candidates and public exposure and it’ll take some big names shifting over to change much … and nobody seems to be willing to take the first step. (Kudos to Gavin Webb though.)

  9. Dave Atherton Says:


    Ziggy mate, I see you’ve spent your refund from the charm school on a brand new website.

    Shirley Williams in the 1970s and 80s was generally a beacon of sense in a morass of communist Labour Party. However, speaking as someone who failed his 11+, and being pleased because all my school mates were going to the local comprehensive, I find it hard to forgive her and Crosland for ridding the country of grammar schools. From my experience of primary schools about 90% of the kids were middle class who went to grammmar schools. Effectively getting a state paid for private education.

    10% of them were genuinely working class, sons and daughters of taxi drivers, electricians, labourers and brickies. These are now lost in Labour’s mediocre, dumb downed, one size fits all comprehensive system. A waste of many talents and opportunity.

    A heavy burden to bear.

  10. Ziggy Says:

    ‘The true home for the members of liberal vision is surely the libertarian party’

    Not if you’re a geolibertarian

    To be honest if not an aspiruing anarcho-capitalist who preys constantly at the church of the free market.

    Not saying the free market can’t cure the majority of problems because it can but it can’t be the cure for everything how unpleasant it might sound to some, there is a need for there to be government.

  11. Psi Says:


    your reference to grammar school choice is disappointing. Shirley Williams normally comes across well when questioned on the abolition of the grammar school system as it did not provide real choice for the majority of people in the country for many reasons that I won’t bother going in to. She is well versed in pointing out some of the many flaws in the old system.

    What the criticism should focus on (and what people never ask her about) is why was the failed two speed statist system replaced with a failing 1 speed statist system. If the opportunity had been taken to push a free market system with no (or at least very limited) government interference we could have a great deal more choice than any government run system with much more innovation and consequently higher standards.

    The obsession with putting on the rose tinted glasses and looking back when discussing of policies (particularly common in the field of education) is a recipe for disaster.

  12. Dick Puddlecote Says:

    Can’t disagree with your second para, Psi. I bow to your knowledge on the matter (never ashamed to learn, me).

    My barb is with reference to the fact that I quickly outgrew the comp system in the late 70s as Williams was closing down grammar schools as an option in my area. My parents had to take a punt on private in the hope that I could gain a governors’ place. Fortunately for them (and for me) I passed the test. The alternative I was lucky to avoid was to stay in the same class, learning the same things, for 3 years due to Labour age regs on passing into secondary.

    Labour are just crap at schooling.

  13. Charlie Says:

    I wonder if Shirley would have made it from an inner city comprehesive into Oxford University? It was not the closure of grammar schools which was just the problem but the anti aspirational and anti-excellence ethos of those who taught in many comprehensives.

  14. Tom Papworth Says:

    A good question and a good answer.

    As I repeatedly remind those who “want their party back”, political parties need to be broad churches if they are to prosper. Especially (but not only) under a first-past-the-post system (even one qualified by STV) dividing up into ideologically pure silos is a recipie for oblivion

    I refer the hon. ladies and gentlement to the London Elections 2008, where there were so many varients of particular views that it was a laugh (except that the National Front didn’t split the nasty vote as much as I’d hoped).

    Of course, a Liberal Democrat party without classical liberalism would be like a Labour Party without socialists or a Tory party witout a defence of privilage. But we need to make room for others, too.