High and lows of former Comet country politician documented in biography

Shirley Williams biography

Shirley Williams biography - Credit: Archant

The highs and lows of politician Shirley Williams, who was a Comet country MP for 15 years before a shock defeat, are documented in a first-ever biography.

Shirley Williams The Biography, by Mark Peel, is based on unfettered access to the family archive and conversations with Ms Williams’s colleagues.

The politician, who was at one stage tipped to become the first female Prime Minister, started her career as a journalist with the Daily Mirror in 1952.

She was elected as Labour MP for Hitchin - later Hertford and Stevenage - in 1964 and was part of the Government Cabinet from 1974.

But in 1979 she lost her Stevenage seat.

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Brian Hall, who was leader of Stevenage Borough Council at the time, remembers the election night clearly.

“I was looking at the bundles (of voting slips). She was about one row ahead and they had finished counting.

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“The radio said there was a 90 per cent chance of her losing the seat. I told her she was ahead and they had got that wrong.

“They suddenly brought out a whole lot more Tory votes from under the table, so I was wrong.

“We were shocked. Quite frankly most of us had, looking at the vote and how it was going, thought she had just about done it.

“Most people thought she was going to win. Some people didn’t bother voting, but said they would have voted for her if they had known she was going to lose.”

On an 80.9 per cent turnout and 8.1 per cent swing, the Conservatives had polled 31,739 votes to take the seat with a 1,296 majority.

Her defeat, the one Cabinet minister to suffer this fate, was the defining moment of the 1979 election.

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