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A century of women MPs – the Liberal roll of honour

December 15, 2018

[This article was edited in June, August and September 2019 to include newly elected and defecting parliamentarians and again in March 2020 to add MPs elected in the 2019 general election and again in June and December 2021]

December 2018 marks the centenary of women being able to stand for election to Parliament.  The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act was passed just a few weeks before the general election held on 14th December 1918 so only sixteen women candidates stood. Three years later the first Liberal woman MP was elected.  Margaret Wintringham was elected in a by election in September 1921, succeeding her deceased husband in the Louth constituency of Lincolnshire. She followed the Tory Nancy Astor as the second woman to take her seat in the House of Commons. Wintringham had served as a magistrate and school board member. Her local government and community activity later became a familiar path for many Liberal and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Wintringham held her seat in the 1923 general election at which Vera Woodhouse, Lady Terrington, was also elected.  Terrington defeated the sitting Tory MP for Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.  Both Wintringham and Terrington were swept away in the Liberal meltdown at the 1924 general election.

The third woman to be elected as a Liberal MP was Hilda Runciman. She gained St Ives from the Tories in a by-election in March 1928. Her tenure was from the start intended to be short lived as her husband, the former cabinet minister Walter Runciman, MP for Swansea West, had already been lined up to switch to St Ives at the next general election. Walter held St Ives in the 1929 election but Hilda was narrowly defeated at Tavistock.  It was at the 1929 election that arguably the most famous female Liberal MP was elected.  Megan Lloyd George was the youngest child of David Lloyd George. She won the usually safe Liberal constituency of Anglesey, across the Menai Straits from her father’s seat. She held the constituency for the next four general elections before losing to Labour in 1951. She returned to the House in 1957, this time as a Labour MP, sitting until her death in 1966.

It was to be another thirty years before another woman was elected in the liberal tradition. Shirley Williams vies with Megan Lloyd George for the title of most famous liberal woman.  Her career was the mirror of Megan’s, starting as a Labour MP in 1964 (and thus a Commons colleague of Megan) before becoming one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party in 1981.  She was the first person to be elected as an SDP MP, winning the Crosby by election in November 1981.  The constituency was greatly altered by boundary changes and she lost in 1983. She became a Liberal Democrat Peer in 1993 and led the party in the House of Lords from 2001 to 2004.

The SDP-Liberal Alliance won a further two seats at by elections with women candidates. Elizabeth Shields won Ryedale for the Liberals and Rosie Barnes won Greenwich for the SDP, a by election in which I helped for a day. Shields lost her seat at the 1987 general election. Barnes held Greenwich but stayed with David Owen in the rump of the SDP when the parties merged in 1988.  She lost as an independent SDP candidate in 1992, when the Lib Dems gave her a free run.

The Liberal Democrats from 1988 have elected 21 women MPs but representation has always been a small proportion of the parliamentary party.  The highest number was 10 out of the 62 elected in the 2005 general election.  Representation shrunk from that high point, more as a result of the party losing seats than unrepresentative selections as women candidates were selected in many target seats (several where a male MP was retiring) in both the 2010 and 2015 general elections. The 2015 election saw an all-male parliamentary party of just eight but it was joined by Sarah Olney, victor of the November 2016 Richmond Park by election.  In the snap election of June 2017 Olney lost by just 45 votes but three seats were gained by new women candidates and Jo Swinson regained the seat she had lost in 2015, becoming the party’s Deputy Leader.  The current (2017) parliamentary party of 12 is thus one third female, the highest ever proportion.

The British legislature with the best record for electing women of all parties, including the Liberal Democrats, is the National Assembly for Wales.  The first election in 1999 saw three Liberal Democrat women elected, half of the party’s group. The Scottish Parliament has been less fertile ground for Lib Dem women, with just three elected since 1999, none in the most recent elections.  Lloyd George’s partition of Ireland had created the Northern Ireland House of Commons, housed in the grand new buildings at Stormont. The NI Liberal Party only managed one victory in the 50 years of devolved rule, when Sheelagh Murnaghan won a by election in 1961 to represent Queens University, Belfast. The graduate franchise was abolished in 1969. The Alliance Party is now the liberal sister party in Northern Ireland.  Six women have been elected since devolved rule was restored in 1998.  One of them is Naomi Long, who was also elected as the Westminster MP for Belfast East in 2010. Long chose to sit on the opposition benches rather than support the Lib Dems in the coalition government but remained on good terms with the party.

Finally, the Liberal Democrats have been able to elect 8 women to the European Parliament. The party list system of PR meant that the party was able to “zip” its candidate lists for the first elections under PR in 1999.  This led to the successful election of five women, half of the seats won.  At the 2014 election the party was left with just one MEP, Catherine Bearder in the south east region of England. At the time of writing she will be the last Lib Dem MEP…

Below I list all the women elected in the liberal tradition since 1918:

House of Commons

1 Margaret Wintringham              Louth                  1921 – 1924         Liberal

2 Lady Vera Terrington                  Wycombe           1923 – 1924         Liberal

3 Hilda Runciman                          St Ives                 1928 – 1929         Liberal

4 Lady Megan Lloyd George        Anglesey             1929 – 1951         Liberal

5 Shirley Williams             #          Crosby                 1981 – 1983         SDP

6 Elizabeth Shields                        Ryedale               1986 – 1987         Liberal

7 Rosie Barnes                              Greenwich             1987 – 1992       SDP, from 1988 Ind SDP

8 Ray Michie                                 Argyll & Bute        1987 – 2001        Liberal then LD

9 Elizabeth Lynne                          Rochdale              1992 – 1997        LD

10 Diana Maddock           #          Christchurch          1993 – 1997       LD

11 Jackie Ballard                            Taunton                1997 – 2001        LD

12 Jenny Tonge                 #          Richmond Park      1997 – 2005         LD

13 Sandra Gidley                           Romsey                  2000 – 2010         LD

14 Annette Brooke                        Mid Dorset             2001 – 2015         LD                                                                                                                            and North Poole

15 Sue Doughty                            Guildford                2001 – 2005         LD

16 Patsy Calton                              Cheadle                  2001 – 2005         LD           Died after re-election in 2005

17 Sarah Teather                            Brent East               2003 – 2015         LD           Brent Central from 2010

18 Lorely Burt                    #           Solihull                   2005 – 2015         LD

19 Julia Goldsworthy                      Falmouth                2005 – 2010         LD                                                                                                                          and Camborne

20 Lynne Featherstone #              Hornsey and             2005 – 2015         LD                                                                                                                          Wood Green

21 Jenny Willott                           Cardiff Central         2005 – 2015            LD

22 Jo Swinson                              East Dumbarton       2005 – 2015           LD                                                                                                                                                         2017 –  2019

23 Susan Kramer              #         Richmond Park        2005 – 2010            LD

24 Tessa Munt                             Wells                        2010 – 2015            LD

24a Naomi Long                          Belfast East              2010 – 2015            Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

25 Sarah Olney                             Richmond Park       2016 – 2017            LD

2019 –

26 Wera Hobhouse                      Bath                         2017 –                    LD

27 Layla Moran                             Oxford West            2017 –                   LD                                                                                                                             and Abingdon

28 Christine Jardine                      Edinburgh West       2017 –                  LD

29 Jane Dodds                              Brecon & Radnor     2019 – 2019         LD

30 Daisy Cooper                           St Albans                   2019 –                  LD

31 Wendy Chamberlain                Fife North East           2019 –                 LD

32 Munira Wilson                          Twickenham              2019 –                 LD

33 Sarah Green                           Chesham & Amersham  2021                 LD

34 Helen Morgan                        North Shropshire          2021                  LD

Senedd (National Assembly for Wales)

1 Jenny Randerson          #             Cardiff Central       1999 – 2011         LD

2 Kirsty Williams                             Brecon & Radnor  1999 – 2021          LD           retired

3 Christine Humphreys  #              North Wales           1999 – 2001         LD           resigned list seat

4 Eleanor Burnham                        North Wales            2001 – 2011         LD           succeeded Humphreys

5 Veronica German                        SE Wales                  2010 – 2011         LD

6 Eluned Parrott                             S Wales Central       2011 – 2016         LD

7 Jane Dodds                                 Mid & West Wales   2021 –                  LD

Scottish Parliament

1 Nora Radcliffe                               Gordon               1999 – 2007         LD

2 Margaret Smith                             Edinburgh W      1999 – 2011         LD

3 Alison McInnes                              NE Scotland        2007 – 2016`       LD

4 Beatrice Wishart                            Shetland              2019 –                 LD

Northern Ireland House of Commons (1921-1971) and Assembly (1998 – )

1 Sheelagh Murnaghan                 QUB                   1961 – 1969           Liberal

2 Eileen Bell                                    North Down       1998 – 2007         Alliance

3 Naomi Long                                Belfast East         1998 – 2010         Alliance                                                                                                                                                    2016 –

4 Anna Lo                                       Belfast South      2007 – 2016         Alliance

5 Judith Cochrane                          Belfast East         2011 – 2016         Alliance

6 Kellie Armstrong                         Strangford          2016 –                   Alliance

7 Paula Bradshaw                          Belfast South       2016 –                  Alliance

European Parliament

1 Elspeth Attwool                            Scotland              1999 – 2009         LD

2 Sarah Ludford                #             London                1999 – 2014        LD

3 Elizabeth Lynne                             West Midlands    1999 – 2012         LD           resigned

4 Emma Nicholson**      #               SE England          1999 – 2009         LD

5 Diana Wallis                                  Yorkshire             1999 – 2012         LD           resigned

6 Sharon Bowles               #             SE England          2005 – 2014         LD

7 Catherine Bearder                         SE England          2009 –                  LD

8 Rebecca Taylor                              Yorkshire             2012 – 2014         LD           succeeded Wallis

9 Barbara Gibson                             East England       2019 –  2020        LD

10 Lucy Nethsingha                         East England       2019 –  2020        LD

11 Irina Von Wiese                          London                2019 –  2020        LD

12 Luisa Porritt                                London                2019 –  2020       LD

13 Jane Brophy                                NW England       2019 –   2020       LD

14 Sheila Ritchie                              Scotland              2019 –  2020       LD

15 Judith Bunting                            SE England          2019 –  2020        LD

16 Caroline Voaden                         SW England        2019 –  2020        LD

# – became a member of the House of Lords

**Note on defectors

Emma Nicolson was elected as the Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon in 1987. She defected to the Liberal Democrats during the Christmas recess in 1995 but did not defend her seat at the 1997 election, which was won by the Lib Dem John Burnett.  She was made a Lib Dem Peer in November 1997. She was elected as MEP for the South East of England in 1999, standing down in 2009 and returning to the Lords.  In 2016 she somewhat bizarrely defected back to the Conservatives, despite the party’s slide into ever more strident Euro-scepticism.

Sarah Wollaston was elected as the Conservative MP for Totnes in the 2010 general election, having been selected as the candidate in an open primary. She left the Conservatives in February 2019 and was one of the founders of the short lived Change UK. On 14th August 2019 she announced her defection to the Liberal Democrats, now led by Jo Swinson.  On 5th September 2019 Luciana Berger joined the Liberal Democrats.  She was elected Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree in 2010.  Like Wollaston, she left her party in February 2019 for Change UK.  On 8th September Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) joined the Lib Dems, having been Labour (2005 -19) and then Independent and Change UK. On 7th October 2019 Heidi Allen (SE Cambridgeshire) joined the Lib Dem parliamentary party having previously left the Conservatives for Change UK, of which she was briefly party leader.  On 31st October 2019 Antoinette Sandbach joined  the Liberal Democrats in order to stand in her Eddisbury constituency at the forthcoming general election, being an MP for just a further 6 days as Parliament was dissolved on 6 November.  At the December 2019 general election Allen did not stand, Wollaston was defeated in Totnes, Sandbach was defeated in Eddisbury, Smith was defeated in Altrincham and Sale West and Berger was defeated in Finchley and Golders Green.

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