Paddy Ashdown has passed away

Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, passed away earlier this evening following a short illness.

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said:

It is with great sadness that we announce that Paddy Ashdown passed away earlier this evening following a short illness. He will be desperately missed by everyone at the Liberal Democrats as a dear friend and colleague, and remembered as someone who made an immeasurable contribution to furthering the cause of liberalism.

Our thoughts are with his family and all of his friends at this difficult time, and we ask that their privacy is respected.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable said:

Our thoughts are with Jane and Paddy’s family this evening.

This is a hugely sad day for the Liberal Democrats and for the very many people across political and public life who had immense affection and respect for Paddy.

He was famous for his politics, but his talents extended well beyond that arena. He was an accomplished author, and had spent many years serving the country before he got near the House of Commons.

Few people know how hard he fought to get into politics following his service in the marines and diplomatic service. He exercised every ounce of his considerable personal stamina to win the Yeovil seat. He was a personal example to me and to many other candidates.

Once in Parliament, he made a real mark. He was always listened to, in particular, on international issues and defence. He took up unpopular causes where he was respected for his convictions. He inspired the Liberal Democrats from a polling position he famously described as ‘represented by an asterisk’, to become a formidable campaigning force laying the ground for the strength which later took the party into government.

In recent years, he has been powerful voice of real significance to the pro-European cause. He will be sadly missed in all parts of politics and Parliament.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Dick Newby said:

Paddy was a natural leader: energetic, charismatic and strategic. He kept the Liberal Democrats alive in our early years and never lost his verve for promoting liberal values. Having worked with him for thirty years, I will miss him greatly.

Willie Rennie said:

Paddy Ashdown was an inspiration to so many people and I am proud to count myself as one of them.

In a few short years his fighting spirit and clarity of thought took the party from the wreckage of the SDP Liberal merger to the strongest liberal force since the first world war.

Paddy had time for everyone, guided and nurtured the party, converted even the fiercest foe and committed his heart and soul to the success of the liberal ideal.

From the first moment I met him whilst working for the party in Cornwall I followed him on a great journey. Thank you Paddy. My thoughts are with Jane and the family.

The party has also set up an online book of condolence for you to leave your tributes to Paddy for his family.

And Vince has done a piece on Ad Lib here. Here’s an extract:

It was an immense pity that he himself didn’t see office in government.

Though the Liberal Democrats had enjoyed incredible success in 1997, in large part due to his leadership, the Labour landslide meant that New Labour did not need Liberal Democrat support. It was a mark of his strength that he nonetheless successfully pushed the Blair government towards constitutional reform.

Sent by Tony Blair as High Representative to Bosnia, he brought that country back to stability, showing the qualities he could have offered to the Cabinet here.

Paddy was aghast at the direction our country has been taking, and as ever did all he could to campaign for a change of course.

Finally, he has been a powerful voice was of real significance for the pro-European cause in recent years. He was aghast at the direction our country has been taking, and as ever did all he could to campaign for a change of course.

He will be sadly missed in all parts of politics and Parliament.

Gracious and generous words from John Major.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • I am immeasurably sad at this news.
    He inspired me as a student during the 1992 election to help the party cause in the Hereford seat. He visited and spoke on the market square, off the cuff, without amplification, to a huge crowd in Ross on Wye, it was unforgettable stuff. I have been a member ever since.

  • Such a shock. And a strange coincidence that one of the other great Liberals of our age, David Penhaligon, died on December 22nd too. They both had so much more to give to the world.

  • Very sad news. He did a lot for the Lib Dems and for politics.

  • Chris Bertram 22nd Dec '18 - 8:52pm

    Devastated. I can say no more. RIP.

  • Chris Rennard 22nd Dec '18 - 9:07pm

    Without Paddy’s determination and inspiration, the Lib Dems would not have survived our first general election. I became the party’s Director of Campaigns & Elections in the 2nd year of his leadership (1989) and there were robust conversations about strategy, but you could never do anything other than work enthusiastically with him for the survival and success of the party and its values. He feared that the party of Gladstone might end with the leadership of Ashdown. But when he stood down as Leader (1999) we had 46 MPs, 17 MSPs, 6 AMs and 10 MEPs and at our peak we had over 5,000 Councillors and ran over 30 Councils. It could not have been done without him and our thoughts now are with Jane, his family and many friends in the party.

  • Yeovil Yokel 22nd Dec '18 - 9:09pm

    Profoundly sad news. He was a great man, whether on the world stage or in a tiny village hall in his beloved Somerset.

  • This is such a shock, and so sad. When he announced his illness a few weeks ago I think I posted something here like “that cancer doesn’t know what its up against”. That seems flippant now, but I genuinely just sort of assumed he would beat it. Because it was Paddy. He wasn’t going to die, was he? That’s the impact he made on me.
    Those of us who were members after the merger in 1988 will never forget those first two years. Tim Farron is right to say that Paddy saved us at that time. His style wasn’t to everyone’s taste, and he put plenty of noses out of joint. But he forced his way through and dragged the party with him. I remember his passion at that time in fighting for the people of Hong Kong before the hand-over to China. Nobody else was talking about this, but he stuck to it. He didn’t want to fight the Eastbourne by election, but allowed Chris Rennard to persuade him – and then led us to a superb win. Then Ribble Valley too, and it was game on.
    For me his leadership was a game of two halves: brilliant up to 1994; I was a bit less impressed by the LibLab stuff with Blair. But I still admired his work-rate and determination, and his strategic thinking. So many of my friends and family at that time said, “I’m not really LibDem but I do like that Paddy Ashdown.” A lot of them ended up voting for us. As with 1988, few of us who were around in 1997 will forget election night either.
    I only actually met Paddy three times. All of them very briefly. Two of them he was in a bad mood! Paul Walter is right to say his memoirs are a great read. I suspect a few of us will be thumbing those pages again in the next few days. It’s just so sad. tonyhill makes the point I was going to make about David Penhaligon. They of course shared an office for years as well in the HoC. RIP both.

  • OnceALibDem 22nd Dec '18 - 9:42pm

    This is terribly sad news. He was a fine man and fine liberal. Even when he got things wrong he seemed very concerned about how he couldn’t take the party with him (rather than the usual leader trait of not bothering about such niceities!)

    We should all put out slightly too few chairs for Christmas dinner in tribute 🙂

  • Paddy was not only a national/international statesman but also a local activist to the very end as Chairman of the Yeovil Constituency Lib Dems. Words cannot begin to describe how much he will be missed at all levels. Here in Yeovil we were so fortunate to have him as our MP and then later on still providing Westminster representation in the House of Lords. RIP Paddy, we will never forget you.

  • A sad day. A reminder, if we needed it, that we stand on the shoulders of giants.

  • John Marriott 22nd Dec '18 - 10:50pm

    What sad news. After the merger, for many people, including myself, Paddy Ashdown WAS the Liberal Democrats. What a force of nature he was, and a thoroughly decent human being. My condolences to his wife and family. RIP.

  • So very sorry to hear this news. He had the great gift of remembering the names of people he met – and making everyone he met feel valued and important. He was a true leader that we could look up to and respect.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Dec '18 - 11:50pm

    A great political leader and a good man, the extent of the first, known by any Liberal Democrat and some beyond, the extent of the second known by anybody and everybody surely for how true.

  • Denis Loretto 23rd Dec '18 - 8:44am

    Given the direction the Labour Party has taken since the Blairite era I think history will show that the overwhelming Labour majority secured in 1997 in effect killed off the establishment of a progressive majority force which could have dominated British politics for years to come – including sustaining our European destiny. This was Paddy Ashdown’s vision which many of us quietly derided at the time. Our party, our country and our continent have lost a great man. RIP.

  • I always remember Paddy being totally committed to racial equality. Helping those who were on the receiving end of racism and intolerance. He is without doubt a huge Liberal icon.

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Dec '18 - 10:20am

    Tiny memories of our great man. As an activist again after the May 2015 disaster, I went to the Brighton Conference in September 2016 – my first conference for very many years – on my own, without knowing anybody there personally, and not appearing in any way distinguished. Being a Cumbrian, though, I tended to smile at people I encountered face to face while hurrying back and forth between debates, and Paddy Ashdown was the leader I remembered who, uniquely, smiled at me. It made a difference to me.

    Two years later, at Brighton again, I was in one of the big meetings at which Vince was explaining his ideas about future leadership and the supporters scheme. Paddy was standing near the back, and put up his hand as others did to make a comment, the microphone being brought to him after several others had spoken. He said something supportive, not especially memorable, but I had the instant impression that this was a great man speaking, compared with whom the rest of us seemed comparatively small. But he had absolutely no ‘side’ about him, for all his distinguished history; just one of us.

  • Sue Sutherland 23rd Dec '18 - 2:59pm

    I met Paddy a few times both before he was our leader and after he was elected. My daughters, who were at primary school at the time, still remember meeting him at an event during his election campaign. Two things I remember about him are : Paddy knew what it was like to be unemployed and he used that to inform his politics and he also had a great love of the party and its’ members. He was very human and warm even though he was our leader.

  • Another point about Paddy that hasn’t been mentioned. When he was trying to arrange a coalition with Blair in 1997, we now know that he was adamant that he personally should not be a minister in it. Other Liberals were to be in the cabinet, like Ming Campbell and Alan Beith, but not himself. He wanted there to be no hint of the idea that his motives were self-serving. He also later turned down an offer to join Gordon Brown’s cabinet. I’m sure he would have dearly loved to serve in office, but only on his terms. i.e. Liberal ones.

  • An inspirational, pragmatic and charismatic leader who excelled as a Royal Marine, Intelligence Operative, Party Leader and Diplomat. Will we see his like again?

    Rest in Peace Royal.

  • nvelope2003 23rd Dec '18 - 8:08pm

    Only saw Paddy Ashdown once at a meeting in Yeovil but was very impressed with his grasp of the issue. This is very sad news and he will be very much missed by many people in Yeovil and Somerset.

  • Richard Underhill 25th Dec '18 - 10:27am

    Chris Rennard 22nd Dec ’18 – 9:07pm:
    At a fringe meeting at federal conference I congratulated Paddy Ashdown on achieving proportional representation for MEPs in England, Scotland and Wales (Northern Island already had STV). He demurred, but not out of modesty. Perhaps he was thinking that PR for MEPs boosted UKIP. Perhaps he was thinking that a fair electoral system for the Commons was the main objective and that Jack Straw had prevented it. Perhaps he was thinking of David Steel’s long campaign for the existence of a Scottish Parliament with a fair electoral system, achieved.

  • Richard Underhill 25th Dec '18 - 10:28am

    Duncan Brack was present.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Dec '18 - 1:14pm

    Paddy came to Maidstone (target seat) in the 2015 general election with two speeches. He delivered them both, one for Liberal Democrats, one for Ghurkas, which he delivered in English.

  • Trevor Morton 8th Jan '19 - 8:03pm

    Paddy Ashdown had an aura that emanates from a very rare few of our species.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jan '19 - 11:44am

    When Margaret Thatcher was arguing against federalism she, rather unusually, did not make herself clear.
    Paddy Ashdown had the courage and logic to go on the main television programmes and argue FOR federalism.
    She meant centralisation, a deliberate distortion? or a piece of crass ignorance?
    Paddy argued that federalisation meant DEcentralisation, both in the EU and in the UK, his constituents would not want to be ruled from Bristol as an alternative to London.
    Did she listen?
    Did she apologise?
    No, this was the PM who called Nelson Mandela a terrorist
    and neglected British citizens kidnapped in war-torn Lebanon.

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