Jeremy John Durham Ashdown, Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, – 22 December 2018), known as Paddy Ashdown, was a British politician and diplomat who served as Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 1988 to 1999. He achieved international recognition for his role as High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006, following his vigorous lobbying for military action against Yugoslavia in the 1990s.(27 February 1941
The Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon
|Leader of the Liberal Democrats|
16 July 1988 – 9 August 1999
|Succeeded by||Charles Kennedy|
|High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina|
27 May 2002 – 31 January 2006
|Preceded by||Wolfgang Petritsch|
|Succeeded by||Christian Schwarz-Schilling|
|European Union Special Representative|
for Bosnia and Herzegovina
3 June 2002 – 31 January 2006
|Preceded by||Office established|
|Succeeded by||Christian Schwarz-Schilling|
|Chair of the Liberal Democrat General Election Committee|
26 September 2012 – 7 May 2015
|Preceded by||Willie Rennie[nb] (2010)|
|Succeeded by||Greg Mulholland[nb]|
|Member of the House of Lords|
10 July 2001 – 22 December 2018
|Member of Parliament|
9 June 1983 – 14 May 2001
|Preceded by||John Peyton|
|Succeeded by||David Laws|
Jeremy John Durham Ashdown
27 February 1941
New Delhi, British India
|Died||22 December 2018 77) (aged|
Norton-sub-Hamdon, Somerset, England
|Resting place||Church of St Mary the Virgin, Norton Sub Hamdon|
|Political party||Liberal Democrats|
|Alma mater||Bedford School|
|Branch/service||Corps of Royal Marines|
|Years of service||1959–1972|
|Unit||Special Boat Service|
|n.b. ^ as Campaigns & Communications Chair|
After serving as a Royal Marine and Special Boat Service officer and as an intelligence officer in the UK security services, Ashdown was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Yeovil in 1983 before retiring in 2001.
Ashdown received national recognition for his services by appointment as Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in the 2006 New Year Honours and Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2015 New Year Honours. In 2017, Ashdown was appointed an Officer of the Legion of Honour by the French government.
Early life and career
Ashdown was the eldest of seven children: he had four brothers and two sisters. He was born in New Delhi, British India, on 27 February 1941 to a family of soldiers and colonial administrators who spent their lives in India. His father was a lapsed Catholic, and his mother a Protestant. His mother (née Hudson) was a nurse in the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps.[full citation needed] Ashdown's father, John William Richard Durham Ashdown (1909–1980), was a British Indian Army officer serving in the 14th Punjab Regiment and the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, and in 1944 attained the rank of temporary lieutenant colonel.
Ashdown was largely brought up in Northern Ireland, where his father bought a farm in 1945 near Comber, County Down. He was educated first at a local primary school, then as a weekly boarder at Garth House Preparatory School in Bangor and from age 11 at Bedford School in England, where his accent earned him the nickname "Paddy".
Royal Marines and Special Boat Section
After his father's business collapsed, Ashdown passed the naval scholarship examination to pay for his school fees, but left before taking A-levels and joined the Royal Marines in 1959. He served until 1972 and retired with the rank of captain. He served in Borneo during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation and the Persian Gulf, before training as a Swimmer Canoeist in 1965, after which he joined the elite Special Boat Section (now named the Special Boat Service) and commanded a Section in the Far East. He then went to Hong Kong in 1967 to undertake a full-time interpreter's course in Chinese, and returned to the UK in 1970 when he was given command of a Royal Marine company in Belfast.
Intelligence officer and diplomat
Ashdown left the Royal Marines to join the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6). As diplomatic cover, he worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as first secretary to the United Kingdom mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. At the UN, Ashdown was responsible for relations with several UN organisations, involved in the negotiation of several international treaties, and some aspects of the Helsinki Accords in 1975.
While in the Marines, Ashdown had been a supporter of the Labour Party but switched support to the Liberal Party in 1975. He had a comfortable life in Switzerland, where he lived with his wife Jane and their two children Simon and Katherine in a large house on the shores of Lake Geneva, enjoying plenty of time for sailing, skiing and climbing. Ashdown decided to enter politics after the UK had two general elections in one year (those of February and October 1974) and the Three-Day Week. He said that "most of my friends thought it was utterly bonkers" to leave the diplomatic service, but that he had "a sense of purpose".
In 1976 Ashdown was selected as the Liberal Party's prospective parliamentary candidate in his wife's home constituency of Yeovil in Somerset, and took a job with Normalair Garrett, then part of the Yeovil-based Westland Group. Yeovil's Liberal candidate had been placed second in the February 1974 and third in the October 1974 general elections; Ashdown's objective was to "squeeze" the local Labour vote to enable him to defeat the Conservatives, who had held the seat since its creation in 1918. He subsequently worked for Tescan, and was unemployed for a time after that firm's closure in 1981, before becoming a youth worker with Dorset County Council's Youth Service, working on initiatives to help the young unemployed. That position being an unpaid "volunteer" one, Ashdown was at the time classified as "long-term unemployed", having applied unsuccessfully for 150 jobs.
Member of Parliament
At the 1979 general election which returned the Conservatives to power, Ashdown regained second place, establishing a clear lead of 9% over the Labour candidate. The Conservative majority of 11,382 was still large enough to be regarded as a safe seat when the sitting MP John Peyton stood down at the 1983 general election to be made a life peer. Ashdown had gained momentum after his years of local campaigning. The Labour vote fell to only 5.5% and Ashdown won the seat with a majority of over 3,000, a swing from the Conservatives of 11.9% against a national swing of 4% to the Conservatives.
Ashdown had long been on his party's social democratic wing, supporting the 1977 Lib–Lab pact, and the SDP–Liberal Alliance. In the early 1980s he was a prominent campaigner against the deployment in Europe of American nuclear-armed cruise missiles, describing them at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally in Hyde Park in 1983 as "the front end of the whole anti-nuclear struggle. It is the weapon we have to stop."
Shortly after entering the House of Commons, he was appointed SDP–Liberal Alliance spokesman on Trade and Industry and then on Education. He opposed the privatisation of the Royal Ordnance Factories in 1984, criticised the Thatcher government in 1986 for allowing the United States to bomb Libya from UK bases, and campaigned against the loss of trade union rights by workers at GCHQ in 1987.
Leader of Liberal Democrats
When the Liberal Party merged in 1988 with the Social Democrats to form the Social and Liberal Democrats (name shortened in 1989 to "Liberal Democrats"), he was elected as the new party's leader and made a Privy Councillor in January 1989.
Ashdown led the Liberal Democrats into two general elections, in 1992 and 1997, and three European Parliament elections, in 1989, 1994 and 1999. The Lib Dems failed to win any seats in the 1989 European Parliament election and recorded a net loss of two seats in the 1992 general election, when the party was still recovering from the after-effects of the 1988 merger. In 1994, the party gained its first two Members of the European Parliament. At the 1997 election, the Liberal Democrats won 46 seats, their best performance since the Liberal Party in the 1920s, though they did take a smaller share of the vote than they had done at the 1992 election. While the Liberal Democrats vote share decreased in the 1999 European Parliament election, the move from first-past-the-post to the D'Hondt method saw the party make a net gain of 8 seats.
Between 1993 and 1997, he was a notable proponent of co-operation between the Liberal Democrats and "New Labour", and had regular secret meetings with Tony Blair to discuss the possibility of a coalition government. This was despite Labour's opinion poll showings from late 1992 onwards virtually all suggesting that they would gain a majority at the next election, particularly in the first year or so of Blair's leadership following his appointment in mid-1994. The discussions began in early 1993, while the party was still being led by Blair's predecessor John Smith, who died suddenly in May 1994. After Blair was elected as Labour leader the talks continued.
There was no need for a coalition, as the 1997 general election ended in a Labour landslide victory. The election also saw a breakthrough for the Liberal Democrats despite receiving fewer votes than in 1992; they increased their representation from 18 to 46. A "Joint Cabinet Committee" (JCC) including senior Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians was then created to discuss the implementation of the two parties' shared priorities for constitutional reform; its remit was later expanded to include other issues on which Blair and Ashdown saw scope for co-operation between the two parties. Ashdown's successor as Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, deliberately allowed the JCC to slip into abeyance until it effectively stopped meeting.
Resignation and retirement
Ashdown announced his intention to resign as Leader of the Liberal Democrats on 20 January 1999, departing on 9 August that year after 11 years in the role, and was succeeded by Charles Kennedy. In mid-1999, there was speculation that he would be appointed the new Secretary General of NATO; his lack of governmental experience meant that doubts were raised about his suitability. The post was ultimately filled by Labour defence secretary George Robertson.
He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 2000 and after retiring from the Commons one month previously, he was created a Life Peer, the peerage being gazetted on 16 July 2001 as that of as Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, of Norton-sub-Hamdon in the County of Somerset. In the 2001 election, the Yeovil seat was retained for the Liberal Democrats by David Laws. Likewise in 2001, the University of Bath conferred on Ashdown an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
In retirement, Ashdown became a regular voice for the Liberal Democrats. He publicly supported military strikes in Syria in 2013, and said he was ashamed after parliament voted against them. At the 2015 general election he appeared on the BBC soon after the announcement of the exit poll which predicted that the Liberal Democrats would be reduced from 57 MPs to 10. Ashdown stated that he would eat his hat if the exit poll was correct. The actual result was that the Liberal Democrats returned eight MPs but the technical difference from the exit poll was not enough to save him from several requests to carry out his vow. Some commentators suggested humorously that this was an example of Liberal Democrats breaking their promises in response to U-turns conducted while in coalition government. The following day after the election, on the BBC's Question Time programme, Ashdown was presented with a chocolate hat that he later ate.
Offer of Cabinet post
In June 2007, the BBC reported that Ashdown had been offered, and rejected, the Cabinet post of Northern Ireland secretary by incoming Labour Party prime minister Gordon Brown. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell had already ruled out the idea that members of his party would take seats in a Brown Cabinet, but, according to the reports, Brown still approached Ashdown with the offer.
High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina
After leaving frontline British politics, he accepted the post of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina on 27 May 2002, reflecting his long-time advocacy of international intervention in that region. He succeeded Wolfgang Petritsch in the position created under the Dayton Agreement. During his time as High Representative between 2002 and 2006, he strengthened the central state institutions, brought in statewide legal bodies such as the State Investigation and Protection Agency and brought the two ethnic armies under a central civilian command, and moved Bosnia-Herzegovina toward EU integration. He was sometimes denigrated as "the Viceroy of Bosnia" by critics of his work as High Representative.
Witness for the prosecution at the Milošević trial
On 14 March 2002, Ashdown testified as a witness for the prosecution at the trial of Slobodan Milošević at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He said that he was on the Kosovo–Albania border near Junik in June 1998. From this location through his binoculars, Ashdown claimed to have seen Serbian forces shelling several villages.
In July 2005, a defence witness, General Božidar Delić, claimed by demonstrating with a topographical map of the area that Ashdown could not have been able to see the areas that he claimed to be able to see as hills, mountains and thick woods would have obstructed his view.
After the Delić claims, Ashdown supplied the Tribunal with grid coordinates and a cross section of the ground indicating that he could indeed see the locations concerned. These coordinates indicated he was on the Kosovo–Albania border, which was a sealed border at the time. The prosecution also used new maps and topographical cross-sections indicating Ashdown's location, but their accuracy was challenged by Delić, for the location of a village was different from that shown in other maps of the area.
UN representative for Afghanistan
Ashdown was later asked by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Prime Minister Gordon Brown to take charge of the Allied effort in Afghanistan; though an unnamed source is quoted in a 16 January Reuters report indicating that Ashdown was also approached by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and met with the Afghan president Hamid Karzai secretly in Kuwait to discuss the post which he later accepted. He later decided against taking the role, after gleaning that Afghanistan preferred General Sir John McColl over him. On 7 March 2008 Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide was appointed as the UN representative for Afghanistan, stating "I'm not Paddy Ashdown, but don't under-estimate me."
Ashdown was a member of the Governing Council of Interpeace, an international peacebuilding organisation, and also served as President of Chatham House. He later chaired the Liberal Democrats' 2015 general election team.
In 2016, Ashdown founded More United alongside several other public figures in response to the result of the June referendum on British membership of the European Union. More United is a liberal and progressive cross-party political movement.
In popular culture
Ashdown married Jane Courtenay in 1962. The couple had a son, Simon, and daughter, Katharine, along with three grandchildren. In 1992, following the press becoming aware of a stolen document relating to a divorce case, he disclosed a five-month affair with his secretary, Patricia Howard, five years earlier from which he acquired the press nickname 'Paddy Pantsdown'. His career and marriage both survived the political and tabloid storm, with his wife forgiving him.
Illness and death
Ashdown was diagnosed with bladder cancer in October 2018. He died on 22 December 2018 at the age of 77. On 10 January 2019 a funeral service was held at Church of St Mary the Virgin, Norton Sub Hamdon, in Somerset, and he was buried in the church's cemetery. A Service of Thanksgiving was held for him at Westminster Abbey on 10 September 2019.
Honours and awards
|Companion of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH)||31 December 2014|
|Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG)||31 December 2005|
|Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE)||16 June 2000|
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- (2008) . Swords and Ploughshares: Building Peace in the 21st Century. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-85303-9.
- (2010) . A Fortunate Life: The Autobiography of Paddy Ashdown. London: Aurum. ISBN 978-1-84513-419-8.
- (2015) . The Cruel Victory: The French Resistance, D-Day and the Battle for the Vercors 1944. London: William Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-752081-7.
- (2012). A Brilliant Little Operation: The Cockleshell Heroes and the Most Courageous Raid of World War 2. London: Aurum. ISBN 978-1-84513-701-4.
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- (2018). Nein!: Standing Up to Hitler 1935–1944. London: William Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-825704-0.
- Hong Kong Watch, former Patron
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I reply I have forgotten six … Malay … local language … among the Dayak people … two years learning Mandarin Chinese … [t]hen came German (briefly), French and Bosnian.
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Yes, he has accepted the job.
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