Lady Shirley Williams, one of the original “gang of four” Labour politicians who split to form the Social Democratic party, has died, the Liberal Democrats have announced.
She became the MP for Hitchin in 1964 and stepped down from the House of Lords in 2016, having served more than 50 years in politics.
During her career, Williams was a Labour cabinet minister under James Callaghan, and later became the first SDP member elected in a byelection in 1981.
She became president of the new party and supported its merger with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, said: “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.
“As a young Liberal, Shirley Williams had a profound impact on me, as she did on countless others across the political spectrum. Her vision and bravery, not least in founding the SDP, continues to inspire Liberal Democrats today.
“Rest in peace, Shirley. My thoughts and prayers are with your family and your friends.”