LONDON — Shirley Williams, a pioneering British lawmaker and former cabinet member who broke from the Labour Party in the 1980s to help found a centrist movement that briefly promised to upend British politics, died on Monday at her home in England. She was 90.
Her death was announced by one of the parties she had helped establish, the Liberal Democrats. No other details were provided.
Charismatic and principled, Ms. Williams was long a force in British politics, serving in senior positions in a male-dominated Parliament and rising to cabinet ministerial posts. Many lawmakers have cited her career as an inspiration. Mark Peel, author of “Shirley Williams: The Biography,” said in an interview, “She gave politics a very good name.”
In 1981, concerned that the Labour Party was veering too far to the left, Ms. Williams and three other senior Labour lawmakers, known as the Gang of Four, founded the more centrist Social Democratic Party. It then formed an alliance with the old centrist Liberal Party and attracted a surge of support.
“Testament of Youth,” in which she described losing her fiancé, brother and two close male friends in the fighting, is widely considered a classic.
to chair the Labour Club there, in 1950. At Oxford she studied politics, economics and philosophy and acted in drama productions. She later won a Fulbright scholarship to study American trade unions at Columbia University.
Returning to Britain, she took up journalism, working for The Daily Mirror and The Financial Times. But she also kept her eyes on a political career, running unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate for Parliament in the 1950s before winning a seat in 1964, from the town of Hitchin, in southern England.
She quickly climbed the ranks, becoming minister for education and science in the Labour governments of Prime Minister Harold Wilson in the ’60s. After the 1970 general election, when Labour lost power, she served as Labour’s spokeswoman on home affairs. In subsequent Labour governments in the ’70s she served as a trade secretary and then secretary of education under Prime Minister James Callaghan.