A bit of our party’s history remembered

1988On 29th July, exactly 26 years ago, Paddy Ashdown was elected as the first leader of the newly merged Social and Liberal Democrats (which quickly settled down to being known as the Liberal Democrats).  The leadership contest was between Paddy Ashdown and Alan Beith, who had my vote. But what a leader Paddy turned out to be!

The Guardian marks the anniversary by airing an editorial of the day, part of which was a tribute to David Steel who had decided not to enter the leadership contest. David Steel had led the Liberal Party into the Alliance with the Social Democrats and acted as one of the two interim leaders of the Social and Liberal Democrats after the merger.  He had been the baby of the House when elected at the age of 26, and was one of the youngest party leaders ever when he took up that role 11 years later.

Back in 1988 Andrew Rawnsley commented drily:

They toasted him, stood and applauded. He sat with his head dipped, his eyes slightly wet. It deserved a song. And now the end was near, he faced the final ovation. Policies, he’d had a few, but then again too few to mention. But more, much more than this, he did it the middle way.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

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  • Next year will be the fiftieth anniversary of Lord Steel’s election to the Commons and will also mark fifty years of service in Parliament. A special dinner is being organised at the National Liberal Club on Tuesday, 10th March to mark the occasion at which Lord Steel will be present. Further details are being worked out and final arrangements will be publicised in due course. Non-Club members who wish to attend will be made most welcome.

  • Charles Rothwell 29th Jul '14 - 11:16am

    I would (depending on other commitments) be interested in attending the Dinner (and possibly staying the night as I shall be coming from West Yorkshire). Not an NLC member, though. How do I learn more. Just sign up for an NLC e-mailing list?
    (As a founder member of the LDs, I still recall 26 years ago (!!!!) very clearly).

  • Thank you, Charles. I’ll ensure that details are publicised well in advance in Ad Lib and elsewhere. The date was only fixed last week and I’ll turn my attention to the detailed arrangements in September. If you want to write to me at the NLC with your contact details, I’ll ensure that you receive full details as soon as they have been settled. It should be a great evening and a great way to kick off our General Election efforts.

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