William Rodgers, Baron Rodgers of Quarry Bank

William Thomas Rodgers, Baron Rodgers of Quarry Bank, PC (born Liverpool 28 October 1928), usually known as William Rodgers but also often known as Bill Rodgers, was one of the "Gang of Four" of senior British Labour Party politicians who defected to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He subsequently helped to lead the SDP into the merger that formed the Liberal Democrats, and later served as that party's leader in the House of Lords.

Early life

Rodgers was educated at Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool and at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was general secretary of the Fabian Society 1953–1960 and a councillor on St. Marylebone Borough Council 1958-62. He also fought a byelection at Bristol West in 1957.

Member of Parliament

Rodgers first entered the British House of Commons at a by-election in 1962, and served in Labour Governments under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, becoming Secretary of State for Transport in Callaghan's Cabinet in 1976.Within the Labour Party he was known for being a highly effective organiser around right wing causes such as multilateral nuclear disarmament and Britain's membership of the EEC. He held the post until Labour's defeat in the 1979 general election. With Labour drifting to the left, Rodgers joined Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen in forming the Social Democratic Party in 1981. He led the negotiations on the split of seats with the Liberals for the SDP side and his decision to go public on the difficulties encountered has often been blamed for starting the Alliance's slide in the opinion polls. On the other hand only three seats eventually saw rival Liberal and Alliance candidates in the 1983 General Election so his tactics were in that sense successful.

Gang of Four

At the 1983 general election the SDP-Liberal Alliance won many votes but few seats, and Rodgers lost his seat of Stockton North (known as Stockton-on-Tees before the boundary changes of 1983). He remained outside Parliament, unsuccessfully contesting Milton Keynes for the SDP in the 1987 general election, until he received a life peerage as Baron Rodgers of Quarry Bank, of Kentish Town in the London Borough of Camden in 1992. During that interval he was Director-General of the Royal Institute of British Architects and also became Chairman of the Advertising Standards Agency.

In 1987 Rodgers was chairman of the successful "Yes to Unity" campaign within the SDP in favour of merger with the Liberal Party. He became the Liberal Democrats' Lords spokesman on Home Affairs in 1994 and was its leader in the Lords between 1997 and 2001. His autobiography was titled Fourth Among Equals, reflecting his position as the least prominent of the SDP's founders.

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