'A man for ideals': former PMs pay tribute to Paddy Ashdown

Tony Blair, David Cameron and Sir John Major attend service for former Lib Dem leader

Past prime ministers, present-day parliamentarians, diplomats and armed services personnel filled Westminster Abbey to pay tribute to former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, described as “ a man for ideals, not shabby deals”.

Former premiers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Sir John Major joined Lord Ashdown’s widow, Jane, their two children, grandchildren and other relatives, at a service of thanksgiving.

Ashdown died on 22 December 2018, aged 77, shortly after announcing he had bladder cancer.

In an address that traced Ashdown’s life from “boisterous young Marine” to “elder statesman”, Major described him as a political opponent who had become a friend.

Ashdown, with his wife Jane, on the day he was elected the leader of the new Social and Liberal Democratic party.
Ashdown, with his wife Jane, on the day he was elected the leader of the new Social and Liberal Democratic party. Photograph: PA

He was a “national leader, not a political opportunist”. He was “never a typical politician and rarely predictable”. He was “as energetic in private as public”, Major added.

“He was always an internationalist, wedded to reason and consensus and dismissive of tribal politics. A man for ideals, not shabby deals. Not one moment of Paddy’s life and time was ever wasted. Your duty is done. At ease, Paddy, at ease.”

Ashdown’s career in the Royal Marines, and serving in the Special Boat Section, was remembered as his Officer’s Sword was carried through the abbey to the high altar. Buglers played Last Post and Reveille.

His subsequent career as MP for Yeovil, and as Liberal Democrat leader in 1988-99, during which he turned the party into a powerful third political force, was manifest in the presence of colleagues, including the former Liberal party leader David Steel and the party veteran Shirley Williams.

Paddy Ashdown in 1996.
Paddy Ashdown in 1996. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Recent Lib Dem leaders Sir Vince Cable, Tim Farron, and the new leader, Jo Swinson, Conservative stalwarts Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine, and Labour’s Peter Mandelson were among the 2,200-strong congregation. The outgoing Speaker, John Bercow, also attended, fresh from the chaos and protests that had engulfed parliament just hours earlier, and just yards away, as it was prorogued.

The former Lib Dem leader Sir Nick Clegg read from a funeral oration, attributed to Pericles: “Our constitution is called a democracy, because power is in the hands, not of a minority, but of the whole people.”

Ashdown would have wanted the reading, he told the congregation. But “not even Paddy” could have guessed how a speech so long ago “could have so much relevance today” Clegg said.

Ashdown after being awarded a Companion of Honour at Buckingham Palace in 2015.
Ashdown after being awarded a Companion of Honour at Buckingham Palace in 2015. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

Ashdown’s time as high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina and EU special representative after he stood down as an MP had been one of the highlights of “an extraordinary life”, wrote Ian Patrick, his former private secretary, in the order of service.

He had “rooted out corruption, created multi-ethnic institutions, established the rule of law, brought war criminals to justice, and created a final resting place for those murdered during the Srebrenica massacres”.

The grand mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Husein Kavazović, gave a reading from the Qur’an at the service which was attended by Željko Komšić, a Croat member of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Jeremy John Durham Ashdown was born in New Delhi and raised in Northern Ireland – hence his nickname Paddy. His family chose The Motet by Howard Arnold Walter, set to the Londonderry Air, in tribute to his Ulster roots.

“Few people surely have experienced such a variety of careers and opportunities for effective leadership as Paddy Ashdown, the Rt Hon Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon,” said the dean of Westminster, the very reverend Dr John Hall.

“It was a magnificent occasion,” said Cable afterwards, pointing to the presence of so many past prime ministers as a reflection of Ashdown’s standing, not just as a party leader but an important national figure. The “slight sadness”, he added, was that Ashdown had died just before his party’s political recovery.

Lord Steel described the service as a very special occasion. “He was a fantastic leader, and a very good friend,” he said.

David Laws, who succeeded to Ashdown’s Somerset constituency, said: “We have representatives here not just from Bosnia, but from many parties and from the Commonwealth. Paddy was somebody who succeeded in punching above his weight not just in Somerset but across the world.”


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

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