This week marks the retirement of Baroness Sharp of Guildford from the House of Lords and witnesses the departure from front-line politics of the last of a trio of important female Liberal Democrats politicians, all of whom have been very have been influential in different areas of education. Baroness Sharp’s departure follows the retirement of Baroness Shirley Williams earlier this year and the decision of Dame Annette Brooke not to contest the 2015 General election.
Baroness Sharp was elevated to the peerage in 1998 and has resolutely fought the higher education corner in the upper house on behalf of the Liberal Democrats ever since. Baroness Sharp’s political career began in the early 1980s when she joined the newly formed SDP and was selected to stand in Guildford in the 1983 general election. She fought three further elections in Guildford for the SDP and then the Liberal Democrats, gradually squeezing a 20,000 majority down to 4,500 and preparing the way for Liberal Democrat victory in the election of 2001.
On the national scene she has played an active part in policy making, chairing a number of policy working groups and for several years being vice-chair to Paddy Ashdown on the Party’s main policy committee.
As leader of higher and further education policy group, who produced the paper ‘Quality, Diversity and Choice’ for the Party.
Baroness Williams was one of the founders of the SDP and had previously been an education secretary during the Labour government of the late 1970s. Created a Life peer in 1993, Baroness Williams played an important background role in education for the Party in her role as a senior politician of wide experience. Her great speaking ability motivated many audiences in both the conference hall and at fringe meetings during many Liberal Democrat conferences over the years.
Dame Annette Brooke was a former teacher who, at the time she stood down from parliament, had attained the distinction of the longest serving female Lib Dem MP. Her contribution to education was mainly, but not exclusively, in the field of early years’ education which she championed with great vigour and expertise and help the Party to develop a significant policy base in this important but previously under-represented area.
All three of these politicians helped further the Liberal Democrat cause in developing a Party that has a deep and abiding interest in education. Over the years, I have been privileged to have been able to work closely with both Baroness Sharp and Annette Brooke. As the Lib Dem’s fortunes revive over the next few years, it will be important for a new generation of politicians to fill the shoes of these three women that have each done so much to help the Party achieve an understanding of the importance of education to society and to promote it through its policy agenda.