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Baroness of Crosby Shirley Williams on winning the Crosby by-election and being an inspiration to women politicians

SHE WAS the woman who shocked politics when she broke away from the Labour party as one of the infamous ‘Gang of Four’ in the 1980s.

But Baroness of Crosby, Shirley Williams, wasn’t always so keen on the subject that would end up becoming her career.

“I first became aware of politics when I was about five years old and I would argue with my parents for always talking about it,” she says.

“I would say to them that they only cared about politics and not me.

“But I remember as a child getting caught up in it and by the time I was 13 I had made my mind up that I wanted to be an MP.”

Williams, 79, achieved her teenage dream when, in 1964, she became a Labour MP for Hitchin. Ten years later she was Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and in 1976 became Education Secretary.

Her place in the House came after she had already cut her teeth in the working world.

She said: “In those days being an MP wasn’t a career you just went into; you went to school and got a job beforehand. My first job was on the Daily Mirror. I worked as a journalist for six years and didn’t think about my political career then because I was too young.

“You didn’t do things the way you do them now; you had a serious job outside of Parliament. Now a lot of people go straight into the House of Commons as an aide so they don’t really see a lot of the world outside.

“I’m all for people learning their trade but I think it’s important to go through that period of unpaid work where you go out and door knock and really have a knowledge of the people in your area.”

When Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives ousted Labour at the 1979 General Election, Williams became concerned about the rise of the extreme left in her party.

In 1981 she founded the breakaway Social Democratic Party (SDP) with fellow rebels Bill Rodgers, Roy Jenkins and Dr David Owen. By the end of the year she had become the first SDP MP in Crosby.

She said: “When we started the new party we knew we’d have to fight every by-election that came up. The first we went for was Warrington which we lost, then it was Croydon North West and the third was Crosby.