Paddy Ashdown, Lord Ashdown of Norton-Sub-Hamdon, who has died feeble 77, used to be perchance the not doubtless leader the Liberal strand of British politics has ever had. A feeble captain within the Royal Marines, ex-diplomat and, it used to be rumoured, a witness, he changed into the first leader of the Liberal Democrats in 1988 and led them over the following eleven years to their handiest electoral results within the intervening time for 3-quarters of a century. Even though he by no design rather completed the parliamentary step forward he hoped for, silent less a realignment of the parties of the left in coalition with Labour, the Lib Dems changed into a serious and influential Zero.33 force in British politics.
It used to be no imply success for a person who used to be regarded as uncollegiate by a mode of his colleagues and used to be a life like speaker and melancholy Commons performer. What he used to be ready to enact, with laborious-driving and ruthless ambition, used to be to flip the birthday party from a bunch of egotistical oddballs and individualists at Westminster – in his phrases “a silly tiny herbivorous thinktank on the sides of British politics” – into a national circulate that earnestly believed it would perchance take a measure of power and happy a swathe of the modern-left electorate that it used to be estimable of doing so.
Square-jawed, eyes narrowed as if at all times scanning the horizon, resolutely refusing to substantiate or squawk that he knew how one can execute a person along with his naked hands from his days combating communist insurgents within the jungles of Borneo with the Marines’ Particular Boat Allotment, Ashdown looked treasure a pacesetter of a more militant birthday party than he really led. If he used to be helped within the early Nineteen Nineties by voters’ rising disillusionment with the Tories and preliminary reluctance in southern shire constituencies to have confidence Labour, he furthermore had to conquer a ramshackle and contrivance-bankrupt national birthday party machine and in most cases nonexistent local organisations.
Ashdown completed this despite coming from a non-liberal birthday party background and never even having been a member of, or voting for, the birthday party until he used to be in his mid-thirties. He had at all times been a Labour voter – not necessarily a profession advantage within the officers’ mess or the diplomatic carrier – until being converted in some unspecified time in the future, he claimed, by an area Liberal canvasser who came knocking at his Somerset cottage door in the course of the standard election marketing campaign in January 1974.
He recalled in his memoirs: “I undoubtedly endure in mind that he wore an orange anorak, looked unprepossessing and had a squeaky sing to verify … My memory will be taking half in tricks when it tells me he furthermore had sandals and a wispy beard. I told him pretty roughly that I absolutely would not vote Liberal except (which I presumed to be highly not going) he would perchance persuade me that I could perchance presumably possess to silent. I don’t know rather what came about subsequent. But two hours later, having discussed liberalism at length in our lounge, I learned that this used to be what I had really at all times been … Liberalism used to be an used coat that had been inserting in my cupboard … accurate ready to be taken down and put on.” He used to be by no design ready to trace down this evangelist again.
Ashdown used to be the oldest of seven children, born in New Delhi, the son of John Ashdown, an Ulster Protestant who used to be an Indian navy captain and his Ulster Catholic most important other, Lois (nee Hudson), who had been an navy nurse. The family did not return to Northern Eire until after the discontinue of the war, when his father invested his financial savings in a pig farm after which a market backyard, both of which failed. Ashdown used to be christened Jeremy John Durham but gained his nickname, Paddy, from his Irish accent when his father managed to develop a thunder for him at Bedford college, where he himself had been expert. The accent used to be quickly lost, though the nickname by no design used to be, and there Ashdown obtained a defense force scholarship, which paid the faculty expenses. He excelled at sport, but not tutorial explore. He failed his French O-diploma, though later changed into proficient in different languages, including Mandarin, Hindi, Malay, Serbo-Croat, German and indeed French.
He joined the Royal Marines straight from college at about the time his of us determined to glean a original existence in Australia. Ashdown served for 12 years within the Marines and saw motion as a commando in Kuwait, Borneo, Hong Kong and Northern Eire where, within the early days of the Troubles, he used to be as soon as required to arrest the Catholic civil rights activist and future fellow MP John Hume on the streets of Belfast. In interviews decades later, Ashdown insisted that had he been an Ulster Catholic he would doubtlessly possess joined the IRA, or on the least campaigned for civil rights himself.
His fluency in Chinese led to a posting with the diplomatic carrier, formally as first secretary to the UK’s mission to the United Countries in Geneva, where he used to be allegedly – Ashdown used to be coy on the matter – required to listen to in on the conversations of the Chinese delegation and cultivate contacts. But he threw up his promising diplomatic profession for family existence in Norton-sub-Hamdon, a Somerset village contrivance Yeovil along with his most important other, Jane (nee Courtenay), whom he had met at a defense force ball when he used to be 20 and married in 1962, and their two tiny children, and joined the local Liberal association. He wrote in his memoirs that the resolution used to be naive to the purpose of irresponsibility: “It accurate furthermore happens to be the ideal resolution I … made in my existence.”
Ashdown used to be fleet chosen because the birthday party’s candidate in a staunch Tory seat and, with power and dedication, thunder about reviving the moribund association and launching the manufacture of grassroots activist campaigns for which the Liberals later changed into primary: canvassing, issuing press releases, fundraising, and needling the complacent local Tories.
He spent time on the dole, but finally managed to glean a clerical job with the local Westland helicopter firm and later with the brief-lived Morland sheepskin firm. Then, when he and his most important other obtained down to their closing £a hundred and fifty, they determined that he would quit political ambition and return to the International Situation of job if nothing came up within a month. They had been saved by the surprising arrival of a £1,000 grant from the Rowntree Belief, arranged by national Liberal guests.
Ashdown calculated that it would perchance need three elections in his constituency to beat the Tories, but within the match it took handiest two. He used to be elected – one amongst 5 original Liberal MPs – within the Thatcher landslide election of 1983 and arrived at Westminster to search out the birthday party riven by personal rivalries and its alliance with the Social Democratic birthday party, led by David Owen, rising more and more fractious.
The parties’ failure to glean a step forward within the 1987 same old election led to the emergence of the Social and Liberal Democratic birthday party – inevitably straight away dubbed “Salads” within the clicking. A name change resulted within the emergence of the Liberal Democrats, who absorbed a mode of the SDP remnant while shedding a pair of diehard Liberals. Following the resignation of the old Liberal leader, David Steel, Ashdown gained the enhance of 72% of the birthday party devoted in opposition to 28% for his rival, Alan Beith. The membership used to be demoralised and the birthday party used to be on the verge of chapter, grateful for the original leader’s dynamism, but not instinctively sympathetic to any individual who had handiest been a member for 14 years and an MP for 5.
Ashdown struggled to glean an influence within the chamber in opposition to Labour and Tory heckling and might perchance presumably very effectively be smug, humourless and patronising. “I’m not a natural speaker,” he wrote in his memoirs. “I tend to discuss too rapid, my sing has a addiction of rising in register after I am fearful. I even possess a melancholy sense of timing for jokes and I tend to lose all gentle and color in my provide when below stress.”
Disaffected colleagues joked that the message on his answerphone acknowledged: “Please recede a message after the high ethical tone.” Nor did he enhance all venerable Liberals’ articles of faith, proclaiming himself a multilateralist and an opponent of the proposed European takeover of Westland in his constituency. Colleagues complained that he did not deem deeply about points or hear to their views, but took off on high profile “paying consideration to the of us” nationwide tours as a change.
As the 1992 same old election approached, Ashdown sought an injunction in opposition to press revelations of an affair 5 years earlier along with his feeble Commons secretary, Tricia Howard, which had been learned by burglars who had broken into his solicitor’s thunder of job and stolen papers from a staunch. News of the affair came out anyway, producing the memorable Sun headline “Paddy Pantsdown”. Removed from the dreaded electoral catastrophe, the birthday party’s standing within the polls went up. Ashdown’s marriage survived, but the hoped-for step forward on the election, ensuing in a realignment on the left, as soon as again failed to materialise: the birthday party gained accurate one seat, for a complete of 20.
This used to be then again adopted by a series of sweeping byelection victories in marvelous Tory constituencies at Newbury, Christchurch and Eastleigh and old to the 1997 election, Ashdown engaged in secret talks the Labour leader, Tony Blair, about forming a coalition. In the match, Blair gained a landslide victory. Nonetheless, the Lib Dems gained virtually 18% of the vote and greater than doubled their illustration to forty six seats, their handiest discontinue in greater than 70 years.
By then Ashdown’s focal point had shifted in other places, to the war in feeble Yugoslavia. He had first visited Sarajevo after the 1992 election to explore what used to be going down as a feeble defense force man and grew more and more hooked in to the disaster and outraged on the west’s obvious indifference to the slaughter going on there. “It used to be a ethical imperative, a frightful imaginative and prescient of the lengthy flee … I used to be obsessed by the nightmare of all of it,” he wrote. “There used to be this sense of guilt and anger.” His traditional visits had been fraught with possibility and at Westminster he harried John Major’s government for its lack of motion.
This took a more concrete manufacture after he stood down from the Lib Dem management in 1999 and from the Commons on the standard election two years later. Following the war in Kosovo, he used to be made high e book of the World Neighborhood and EU particular e book in Bosnia and Herzegovina for four years from 2002. The purpose gave him plenipotentiary powers to sack politicians and even judges, to direct decrees and thunder up institutions from his thunder of job in Sarajevo, though supervised by the allied powers. In 2007 the British and US governments supplied him a same purpose in Afghanistan, but he used to be rejected by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.
In its set aside Ashdown remained energetic in Lib Dem politics. He used to be made a existence leer in 2001 and grew to alter into to writing books: two volumes of diaries, his memoirs, A Fortunate Lifestyles (2009), and effectively-obtained histories of incidents within the second world war: the Royal Marines’ disastrous are attempting and abolish German shipping at Bordeaux in 1942 and the French resistance’s fight on the Vercors plateau in 1944. He changed into president of Unicef UK in 2009.
In 2015 he supervised the Lib Dems’ disastrous same old election marketing campaign, following their period of coalition with the Tories below Sever Clegg’s management, which saw them lose forty nine of their 57 seats. He announced, in November of this year, that he had been identified with bladder cancer. “I even possess known for approximately three weeks that I am tormented by a cancer of the bladder,” he told Somerset Stay. “I’m being effectively and splendidly taken care of by everybody at Yeovil scientific institution.”
He had told the Observer in 2013 that he used to be not sad by no design to were prime minister: “Not really, to not any extent extra. Am I proud to were the founder leader of a celebration that survived in opposition to the percentages and has completed bloody effectively within the first coalition government at an exceedingly advanced time? Yeah, I burn with pleasure about that.”
He’s survived by Jane and their daughter, Kate and son, Simon.
• Jeremy John Durham (Paddy) Ashdown, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, baby-kisser, born 27 February 1941; died 22 December 2018
This article used to be amended on 23 December 2018. An earlier correction urged that Ashdown had fought with the Particular Boat Carrier. Truly he had left the carrier by the time it adopted its recent name.