Remembering Paddy

I know that most of you reading this will be feeling the same as I am this morning – so incredibly sad that we have lost one of the best advocates for liberalism we have ever had.

Paddy Ashdown was brilliant – a mix of compelling persuasiveness, charm, wit, and the ability to be a total pain when the occasion demanded it. He stood up for the right things at the right times whether they were popular or not. The architect of the original Lib Dem Fightback will be so, so missed.

Back in 2014, after the Euro election results when the party was falling apart in agony, I found myself in the middle of the argument. Clegg loyalists didn’t think I was loyal enough, Clegg opponents called me every name under the sun for being too loyal to him.

I went on the Today programme in the aftermath of it all trying to spread calm and peace and light. Literally within seconds of getting off air, I had an email from Paddy telling me I was terrific and calm and sane and rational. It meant so much and was a real anchor point in the tumultuous and emotionally draining days that followed.

I’ve been alternating between tears and sad smiles for most of the last 14 or so hours since the news came through as I’ve read so many people’s reflections and memories on social media. That man was so loved.

The Lib Dem family remember him as someone who was utterly authentic, generous, hilarious and nearly everyone has a story to tell about how he inspired them, how he left them with a lesson to apply in their campaign, career or an essential life skill.

Sam Barratt, the Party’s Director of Communications, gave me permission to repeat here what he said on Facebook:

Having ‘done Paddy’s press’ since he adopted me as a point person in my first couple of days in the Lib Dem press office – an experience as terrifying as it was educational – I am heartbroken that we’ve lost him tonight.

He was someone who always had his eyes on the next mountain to conquer, a conspiratorial manner of taking people with him on that mission, and an unashamed passion for his principles and politics that too many liberals shy from.

There are too many memories to begin to recount, but standing on the rooftop at Millbank with him as he decried Cameron’s ‘bastards’ on the BBC Newschannel at 2 in the afternoon is a standout highlight. Accompanying him around Millbank after the 2015 election, and the 2016 referendum were a contrast – but to see how much he cared for what he fought for, and his immediate resolve and determination to overcome the setbacks on each of those occasions was inspiring.

He was an exception to the rule that you shouldn’t meet your heroes – and our whole liberal family will be far poorer without him.

The generous tributes made by political opponents and journalists,  from as unlikely sources as Nicholas Soames, Andrew Neil Nick Robinson and Tim Shipman highlight the high esteem in which he was held. John Major’s wonderful tribute actually made me cry. I mean, really, look at this lot:

And the Archbishop of Canterbury took time out of his evening to praise an “agent of reconciliation.”

When I heard the news, one of the first people after Jane and his family that I thought of was Olly Grender, who has worked so closely with him for decades. Back in 2011, she wrote an article for the New Statesman saying that Paddy should be in Government:

Ever worked for someone whom you want to garrote on a weekly basis, but to whom you are so dedicated you would happily follow them into battle with nothing more than a Swiss army knife?

After that grizzly opening, she went on to say that his experience, and his combination of the “enthusiastic energy of a teenager and the wisdom these days of an only just 70 year old” would really enhance the Government.

On Twitter last night, Olly said:

If ever we needed his voice, it’s now when the country is at a time of crisis. He had a lot to say and all of it was worth hearing. Whenever anything big was happening in the world, one of the first things I wanted to know was what Paddy thought about it.

It feels like he’s been taken from us at least two decades too early.

A mantra for all of us from now on will be “What would Paddy do?”

Please feel free to share your memories of Paddy in the comments. There will be many opportunities to do so over the next few days.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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6 Comments

  • I last spoke to Paddy at the Brighton Conference in September. This morning I was the visiting priest at a service just north of Nice. I was leading the prayers and, during a section in which members of the congregation are invited to mention people by name, someone said “Paddy Ashdown, a man of honour.” It meant more to me than they would have realised.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Dec '18 - 1:56pm

    Outstanding tributes from you Caron, and colleagues , friends and Liberal Democrat family.

    Am really pleased to see those cross party, Sir John Major and Tony Blair both very special in full.

    Can I share an article I have written in tribute, for the Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum I am involved with, Sir Peter Ustinov was a supporter and voter of our party and very keen on our late great leader, both Ambassadors for Ustinov, Sir Peter for decades, Paddy in recent decade.

    Visit or google… http://www.ustinovforum.com

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Dec '18 - 2:04pm

    Both Ambassadors for UNICEF, is the point that connects them directly apart from their Liberalism.

  • Leekliberal 23rd Dec '18 - 6:41pm

    How many people, never mind politicians, would you unquestionably go into the jungle with, if they asked you to? Paddy had that quality and I don’t need to explain to anyone who has come across him, why.

  • Ashley Byrne 24th Dec '18 - 9:54am

    Paddy was an inspiration to a whole generation of young liberals. He was the reason why I and so many of my contemporaries at the time in the late 80s/early 90s came into politics. His support for human rights in Hong Kong as well as campaigns around homelessness at the time were real issues of substance for idealistic young liberals like me. I got know him in the 90s and served with him on the party’s FPC for many years. I remember him being the first person to utter the words ‘information super highway’ to me. He was always ahead of the curve. Later, as a journalist, I encountered him on the other side fence. Above all the thing i will most remember about Paddy was, whether you agreed with him on a point or not, he had a wonderful ability of making you feel special. He oozed warmth and charisma and never forgot anyone. My mum cherishes her one meeting with him to this day. My thoughts are with Paddy’s wife Jane and family. Paddy Ashdown – the best PM we never had by a country mile!

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