Conference pays heartfelt and fulsome tribute to Paddy

There were 20 minutes set aside this morning in the main hall to pay tribute to Paddy Ashdown.

In the front row for the session were Jane, Kate and Simon Ashdown.

(Baroness) Liz Barker presented the salute to our founding leader with a quiet and heartfelt voice. She emphasised that this was a tribute to a partnership – Paddy and Jane.

The section started with a video on the big screen. Relaxed and sincere tributes came from Ed Davey, Nick Clegg, Tony Blair, Jane Ashdown and (Baroness) Cathy Bakewell (who worked with Paddy during his early days as an MP in Yeovil).

We then had three speeches.

(Sir) Nick Harvey, Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats, shared his memories of working with Paddy as an MP. These included his renowned 6am phone calls and his parliamentary team meetings. The latter used to start with Paddy stating his views on the subject at hand. He would then invite views from all the MPs present. The views would be from many different directions and be virtually irreconcilable. Paddy would then finish the meeting by summarising what he saw as the consensus expressed by all. This summary would always bear an uncanny resemblance to the view Paddy expressed at the start of the meeting.

Jo Booth spoke as a long term member of Paddy’s staff. Her recollections included some of Paddy’s little characteristics which caused some amusement. – Such as the time when he volunteered to make everyone tea, put the kettle on and then got side-tracked – leaving the tea unmade. And how Paddy used to walk very quickly, causing his staff to run to keep up with him. We were told that you can tell people who have worked for Paddy – they all walk quickly.

The third speech was from Ian Patrick, who worked closely with Paddy when he (Paddy) was High Representative for Bosnia and Hercegovina. Ian emphasised that Paddy was a highly emotional man. With emotion showing in his voice, Ian told us how Paddy worked assiduously to establish a decent burial ground for the 8,000 Bosnians, mainly men and boys, who were massacred in Srebrenica in 1995. The burial place was badly needed, because previously the Women of Srebrenica had no place to grieve their menfolk. When the cemetery opened, Paddy noticed that some women were standing back at the entrance and not going in. It was explained to him that the women’s Muslim religion required them to wait for their men to dig the graves. Obviously, many of the women had no menfolk to do such a thing. On hearing this, typically, then Paddy took off his jacket and dug graves for some of the waiting women, allowing them, at last, to be able to properly mourn their men and boys.

In summary, the tributes spoke of Paddy as “often exasperating, always exhilarating”, a true and loyal friend, highly energetic and passionate. Warm and supportive. A real Statesman. He lived a life of duty. He was a proud Brit and a proud European and he didn’t see a conflict between the two. He took the party from being an asterisk to being a significant force in British politics. An inspiration to millions of people around the world. A relentless task master. Never cynical.

The session ended with a loud and sustained standing ovation.

Apologies if I have inadequately summarised the wonderful tributes to, and stories about, Paddy but I was rather touch emotionally by it all, so my recollection of it isn’t perfect.

Photo above by Helen Duffett – Flickr CCL

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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