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WI: Shirley Williams stands in the Warrington by-election


Racist name by the way,
Published by SLP
OTL, the 1981 Warrington by-election was an early test of the nascent SDP that saw Roy Jenkins come an unexpectedly close second to Labour one of their safe seats, giving them much-needed momentum and credibility in their early days.

Except apparently Roy Jenkins wasn't supposed to run.

I'm reading Dominic Sandbrook's Who Dares Wins, and he quotes Shirley Williams as stating that the constituency was a natural fit for her, as well as a poll that had her winning Warrington by 55%. But she ultimately passed up the opportunity, thinking as a parent first and a politician second, and Jenkins was selected with lower expectations of success. Many journalists, contemporaries and even Williams herself regard her not standing as one of her biggest mistakes in politics.

So my question is, what if she did run? And won? A victory would've gave them a much much greater shot of credibility than anything that happened to them OTL. And it would've put her in a much better position to become a future leader of the SDP: she most certainly would've been at least as credible a standard-bearer for the whole operation as Owen became. What happens to the Alliance, and it's leadership? Does it make a bigger breakthrough and what are the butterflies of that?


Well-known member
The Alliance gets a temporary boost in the polls, and Jenkins gets back into the Commons four months earlier by winning Crosby. But in the long term, I'm not sure there are any huge changes. Williams did not lack for standing or popularity. She was one of the most popular politicians in the country at this point. Owen spent a considerable amount of time trying to convince her to run against Jenkins for the leadership before ultimately doing so himself.

The problem was more that, due to her personal circumstances, she simply did not want to become leader of the SDP or any other party. If you don't change those, it's unlikely her ambitions would change either.
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