Tuition fees undid Paddy Ashdown’s achievements | Letters

The former Lib Dem leader was against free university education, says Nigel Boddy, and John Marriott remembers him as a thoroughly decent man

Paddy Ashdown once said when criticising the EU: “When things go wrong good friends should say so.” In the Lib Dem Nottingham spring conference of 1993, the Lib Dem party members voted for free university education and against the introduction of university tuition fees. Paddy Ashdown (Obituary, 24 December) was furious, lost his temper and vowed the conference vote would not stand. On every occasion since, the Lib Dems and the Scottish Lib Dems, in conference after conference, have voted for free university education and, lately, a cap on fees. Nick Clegg was Paddy’s choice for leader of the Lib Dems. Both these men were part of a small group of people at the top of the party who have continued ever since 1993 to subvert the will of the party members in determining this policy at their conference. The policy of free university education was jettisoned in Scotland in 1999 during coalition negotiations with Labour at Holyrood. The cap on fees policy was jettisoned during coalition negotiations with the Tories at Westminster in 2010. These two actions undid all that Paddy Ashdown managed to achieve.

As a nation we now find ourselves in the astonishing position of having Jeremy Corbyn as a weak and ineffective leader of the Labour party throughout the Brexit debates – because of the issue of university tuition fees. When things go wrong good friends should say so, right enough.
Nigel Boddy
(Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, Hartlepool 2001), Darlington

• Like many people I am truly saddened to hear of the death of Paddy Ashdown. Having met him on several occasions, as a councillor and a parliamentary candidate, I treasure in particular the autobiography he personally signed when we last met thanking me for my work with the party over many years. He was a thoroughly decent human being. If Blair had not got that thumping majority in 1997, or even if Paddy had decided to join the Tories after he left the diplomatic service in the 1970s instead of starting from the bottom with the Liberal party, who knows where he may have ended up?
John Marriott

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