BARONESS Shirley Williams has died aged 90, the Liberal Democrats said today.
The former Labour MP who broke away to form the Social Democratic Party, which later became the Lib Dems, passed away in the early hours of the morning.
Many saw her as a pioneering and groundbreaking figure who made a huge impact on British politics.
Baroness Williams, first elected as the MP for Hitchin in 1964, was one of the first women to sit in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, and later as Education Secretary.
She became increasingly frustrated with Labour under Michael Foot and became one of the “Gang of Four” who formed the SDP rival party in 1981, and won an MP seat in a by-election.
She became President of the new party and supported its merger with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats.
Later on she served as leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, and was an adviser to PM Gordon Brown on nuclear proliferation.
She retired from the House of Lords in 2016.
Her death led to an outpouring of grief from politicians today, who have come back from their Easter break a day early to pay tribute to Prince Philip, who passed away last week.
Current leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said earlier: “This is heartbreaking for me and for our whole Liberal Democrat family.
“Shirley has been an inspiration to millions, a Liberal lion and a true trailblazer. I feel privileged to have known her, listened to her and worked with her. Like so many others, I will miss her terribly.
“Political life will be poorer without her intellect, her wisdom and her generosity. Shirley had a limitless empathy only too rare in politics today; she connected with people, cared about their lives and saw politics as a crucial tool to change lives for the better.”
MP and former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron tweeted: “They say you should never meet your heroes – Shirley Williams was an exception.
“She was joyful, inspiring, gentle, decent, tough, brave and determined. She was unique with gracious humility and star quality all at the same time. A lovely friend and an inspiring mentor.”
Labour MP and shadow justice secretary David Lammy said she was a “female pioneer” and a “giant of the political centre ground.”
Speaker Linsday Hoyle said she was a “trailblazer for women and education” and “without a doubt, she was one of a kind”.
Tory MP Amanda Milling also paid tribute to her today: “Incredibly sad to hear of the recent passing of Baroness Williams.
“Baroness Williams’ political service was remarkable & she served as an inspiration for many young women looking to start a political career.
“My heartfelt thoughts and condolences to Shirley’s family and friends.”