Shirley Williams (1930 – 2021)

a “Liberal lion and a true trailblazer” –

~ Ed Davey

Shirley Williams, who died at the age of 90 this week on Monday 12th April, was a member of that rare breed: a popular politician.  She became an M.P. in 1964 when to be a female M.P. was also part of a rare breed.  During the course of her career, she belonged to three different parties: Labour, SDP and Lib Dems.  In her most recent years, she led the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.


I wrote in 2015:

” National treasure Shirley Williams struggled to express the fine party line on Question Time this week.  Coming close to the election, she was trying to uphold the achievements of the coalition while re-defining the individual goals of her party.

Shirley has Pluto on the Ascendant, hence she changed her political afflilations a few times in her life, but never in a shallow way, always in a deeply considered fashion.

The mother figure is important in her chart, with a dominant Moon in Leo and a Cancerian Ascendant.  Her mother Vera Brittain wrote, and lived, the wonderful “Testament of Youth” account of a woman’s life in the 1st World War, which was subsequently made into a TV series and now a film.  Vera had the extremely challenging conjunction of Pluto and Neptune, one which many of her generation will have had.  She had no personal aspects to her Sun (except perhaps her Moon, if her birth time were known), and this comes out in her life and work as a deeply held sense of service, or surrender to the needs of her time.  Loyalty was also a theme, with Venus closely trine Saturn.

So Shirley had a rich heritage, and in her later years has married an American academic.  Shirley also has no aspects to her natal Sun, and a strong social conscience and sense of service.  She has a brilliant mind (Mercury exactly trine Uranus) but is hampered by an exact opposition between Jupiter and Saturn, which means she is sometimes hamstrung in decision making.  Her only cabinet post, as an Education minister under Labour, much earlier in her career, did not live up to her potential and promise.  And yet she was born to put herself into a meaningful relationship with society, with Pluto closely trine her Midheaven, and Chiron exactly sextile her Midheaven: she aches to make a difference.”

I would add

Shirley was a lioness, astrologically, being born under the Sun sign of Leo.  Lib Dem leader Ed Davey also picked out another Leo quality in his eulogy, that of “generosity”.  She had the chart of a potential leader, but for various reasons held back from that role in her life.  One possible astrological reason may have been that her natal Sun was unaspected except for squaring the Nodal Axis, so it may not have been part of her destiny to take the top job(s), although her ambition when young was to become Prime Minister.  David Steel spoke this week about her reluctance to take pole position in the new parties.  Maybe she did not reach her full potential, hung back a bit on it, or diversified into social causes and academia etc. instead of leadership.  She was not a very effective Education Minister, and this perhaps knocked her self-confidence, although there were wider reasons in the educational policy of the Callaghan government which contributed to that.  Polly Toynbee observed in the Guardian: “She never burned with the ambition that caused the bitter rivalry between Jenkins and David Owen…But some inner reticence held her back…That lack of cut-throat ambition may be why people warmed to her.”

Perhaps a clue is to be find in the description in the Guardian Obituary by Julia Langdon:

“In July 1981 Williams refused an invitation to fight as the SDP candidate in a byelection at Warrington, Cheshire.  Later she wrote: ‘I did not dither.  I quailed.’  She recognized her error swiftly and stood successfully in Crosby a few months later, but as she acknowledged: ‘My reputation for boldness, acquired in the long fight within the Labour party, never wholly recovered.’ ”

Her 2nd House of money and materiality contained the Moon (also in Leo), Neptune and Venus, so she would have had very idealistic views on the subject, and was initially a socialist.  With such a preponderance of Leo in her chart (Sun/Part of Fortune, Mercury and Moon) she considered an acting career, and auditioned for the part in the film National Velvet which was taken by Elizabeth Taylor.  The North Node in  Aries in 10th House, meant that her self-fulfilment and karmic mission lay in Politics.  She appeared on Question Time 58 times: with Mars in Gemini, she liked verbal gymnastics!

Life and Career

Shirley’s father George Caitlin was an English political scientist and philosopher, and her mother was Vera Brittain, whose book “Testament of Youth” was a moving portrayal of love and loss during the First World War.  Her mother was also a pioneering feminist and pacifist.  Shirley spent some time in Minnesota during her youth.  She was educated at Oxford (reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics), and took up journalism upon graduating.  She joined the Labour party at the age of 17, and became an M.P. in 1964, serving in the Labour cabinet from 1974 to 1979.  She lost her seat in 1979, and in 1981 was a prime mover in the “Gang of Four” who formed the breakaway Social Democratic Party.  Where does the Rebel Archetype show up in her chart?  Uranus is right at the top of the chart, exactly trine her Mercury.  So her rebelliousness is very much tied up with her intellect.

The SDP was an experiment which did not measure up to its early promise, and she was later instrumental in supporting the merger of the SDP with the Liberal Party in 1988, amalgamating to form the Lib Dems.  After 1988 she moved her focus to academia, becoming a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  While there, she helped draft constitutions around the world.  In 1993 she was elevated to the House of Lords.  She was passionate about our participation in Europe, and Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament, among other causes.  She said in 1972:

“I am not as much a passionate European, as I am a passionate internationalist, with a deep sense of the special and unique nature of Britain.  I see staying in Europe as being part of the price of living with reality.”


Her first marriage was to the prominent philosopher Bernard Williams, who she met in America, and married in 1955.  They have a daughter Rebecca.  Shirley said of that relationship:

“… [T]here was something of a strain that comes from two things. One is that we were both too caught up in what we were respectively doing — we didn’t spend all that much time together; the other, to be completely honest, is that I’m fairly unjudgemental and I found Bernard’s capacity for pretty sharp putting-down of people he thought were stupid unacceptable.”

Interestingly, Bernard Williams has in his chart the conjunction of Mercury and Mars, which is the Critic Archetype, useful though for a philosopher.  But in their synastry his Mars was square to her Pluto, which is quite a conflicting interaspect.  The marriage ended in 1974.  She found love again with a Harvard professor and historian, Richard Neustadt.

Maybe she had her reasons for staying out of the top echelons of her profession.  My guess is that she was too nice!

“Political life will be poorer without her intellect, her wisdom and her generosity”

~  Ed Davey


This week we have 3 ingresses (energy changes) and 3 conjunctions (intensity).

Tomorrow (Monday 19th) the Sun will be conjunct Mercury at 29 degrees Aries, a final focus of Aries energy.  It is a good day generally to apply your mind with clarity,  concentrate and focus,  and make important statements.  The focus may be on your own growth and potential and physical wellbeing.

Mercury enters Taurus on the same day, and the quality of the mental energy may become steadier and calmer than the fieriness of the last two weeks or so when Mercury has been in Aries.  This placing is better for negotiation, which is something much needed at the moment.  Practical ideas will be the order of the day.  Mercury enters Gemini on 4th May, so this is a short window,  just before local elections take place.

Later in the day the Sun enters Taurus, a time of the blossoming of the earth.  Gardeners will garden, artists will paint or sculpt, and dancers will dance.  So it is very much a cuspal and switchover day, concentrating on Aries energy, saying farewell to that initial Spring energy, and settling down and embedding into a productive Taurean period.

Fast forward then to Friday (23rd), when we have a conjunction between Venus and Uranus at 10 degrees Taurus.  This conjunction may pep up your social life.  It is time to advantage of the new freedoms, see who’s in town, and seek out new experiences.  Innovations can be made in Taurean activities such as gardening, financial arrangements, art and music.  This conjunction occurs very early in the morning, so may bring you unusual dreams.

In the late morning, Mars enters Cancer, which represents an energetic shift from a mental and analytical mode, to that of feeling and protectiveness.  Mars stays in Cancer until 11th June, so it is a good time to nurture those you love and foster family feeling.

The last feature of the week comes on Saturday (24th) when Mercury conjoins Uranus at 10 degrees Taurus, the same degree as the previous day’s conjunction between Venus and Uranus, so there may be some continuation in its themes.  Mentally it could be off the wall.  You’ll be thinking inventively and out of the box.  There may be some interesting synchronicities happening.  Welcome the power of surprise!  If you had some interesting conversations or encounters the day before, there could be a continuation of those.  If your creativity was soaring, you may introduce an additional intellectual element to your productions.

The week in bullet points:

  • Tomorrow – initially mentally sparkling; then settling into a stabler and more productive groove
  • Friday – sparkling social life; then emotional intensity
  • Saturday – mentally sparkling but with a different focus from Monday