Tag Archives: paddy ashdown

New Issue of Liberator Out

Issue 394 of Liberator is on its way to subscribers.

Our first free sample article for this issue gives three perspectives from the continent on Brexit, by Søs Haugaard, Kate Vanovitch and Sonja Rentz.

In the second, Tony Greaves explains how the Liberal Democrat preamble – barely contentious when written – now reads like a revolutionary text.

Both are on: www.liberatormagazine.org.uk

Also in this issue:

PARLIAMENT PERFORMS THE PARROT SKETCH  The contortions of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit remind David Grace more of Monty Python than an effective legislature

PADDY ASHDOWN 1941 – 2018 Obituaries by Alan Leaman, Rebecca Tinsley, Roger Hayes, Mark Smulian, Claire Tyler and Les Farris

WHERE DID ENGLAND GO?  Jonathan Coe’s new novel Middle England uses characters from some earlier books to chart the nation’s path into one of mutually uncomprehending tribes after the 2016 referendum, finds Jonathan Calder

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Liz Barker’s tribute to Paddy Ashdown

In a House of Lords debate on the Western Balkans this week, Baroness Liz Barker paid tribute to Paddy Ashdown:

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for this debate, which, sadly, is timely and appropriate. I thank her for giving me the opportunity to tell your Lordships’ House about an event that took place in Sarajevo on 27 December. Joseph Ingram wrote a report of it and he said this. Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina held a spontaneous commemorative service in the “iconic, reconstructed city hall”. The hall was,

“filled to capacity, and despite being nationally televised, had people lined up outside trying to be part of it. The ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’, a group that represents survivors of the most horrific massacre of innocent civilians on European soil since World War Two, had announced that they too intend to honour the work of this extraordinary human being”.

The event was dedicated to one man. He was born in India. He grew up as a lad in Northern Ireland. He left school, joined the marines and became a captain, a diplomat and spy. Then he gave up everything and, after a period on the dole, went on to become a youth worker and eventually the gallant MP for Yeovil. In this House, we knew him as Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, but he was always Paddy.

He had a wide range of interests. He had forgotten more languages than most of us have ever learned. He could quote the poetry of John Donne at will. He was an informed and passionate supporter of activists for democracy in Hong Kong, when nobody else took any notice, and he packed more achievements into a lifetime than most of us could imagine, but he was always first to admit that the source of his great strength was Jane. In public she was a quiet figure, but to those of us who know her she is a charming, funny and formidable woman.

I will give you one vignette which sums up both of them. Like all good leaders, Paddy used to invite people in to advise him, talk to him and argue with him. In 1992 I was one of the small group. Early one morning, he posed us the question: should I go to Bosnia? We went round the room and we all said no. We gave him all sorts of reasons why it was a really bad idea, and I left the meeting certain of only one thing. He was going to go. We all saw the TV pictures recently, but what we did not know until we read his autobiography was that he had come under fire, as the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, told us. But he went because he saw a group of people being treated unjustly, and he thought that he could and should do something.

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Generosity, compassion, 3am phone calls and no watching rugby – David Laws’ heartfelt tribute to Paddy

It’s still hard to get our heads round the fact that Paddy is no longer with us.

So many tributes have been paid to him. One particularly touching one was published on Somerset Live at the weekend. David Laws, who worked for Paddy and who succeeded him as MP for Yeovil, talked about life with this great character. Here’s an extract:

But those who knew Paddy best, most valued his personal qualities, not the titles or impressive CV.

He was a voracious worker, a natural leader, a person of great courage and conviction, and of a generous, compassionate and progressive spirit. He was, also, a deeply loyal friend and loving family man.

Politics is generally a profession of long hours and hard work, in spite of its reputation. But even in this field, Paddy was exceptional. Work was completed swiftly, with ruthless efficiency.

Party conference speeches had reached draft number 20, a month before they were needed. No holiday of his was ever truly a rest. No hour in the morning was too early for an urgent call, no time at night too late.

Indeed, Paddy once asked me to keep my pager to hand after 2am, in case he needed to be in touch “around 3am”!

And he never, ever, stopped. I remember telling him, after we had completed one lengthy five-hour Advice Centre in Yeovil on a Saturday, that I was going home to see a rugby match on TV.

“What!”, he said, “Spend over two hours doing nothing but watching sport?”

He was genuinely mystified that anyone could want to stop productive work for so long.

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Paddy’s Dangerous Idea No. 2

Following on from my post last week on Paddy’s Dangerous Idea No. 1, I am delving into his second proposal. Paddy argued:

We have long understood that property owning rights are one of the foundation stones of democracy. Yet each of us gives away our most intimate of property free and daily to the most powerful corporations, who make millions and millions from it. I am talking of course, about our personal data.

Why do we Lib Dems not assert the citizens right to own their own data and to have control over how it is used? Why about proposing a law – perhaps a European one – which says to Messrs Amazon, Google, Starbucks etc, that they can use our personal data for their commercial purposes, but only with our permission and if they give us a share of the profits. Can you think of anything which would more alter the relationship between these masters of the commercial universe and the customers whose information they exploit for such enormous profit? Can you think of anything which would more empower the citizen in the market place? Isn’t that what we Lib Dems are supposed to be about? So?

I really like this idea. Ownership of our own data gives us not only control over who does what with our data but means we can expect to be paid if others use our data, especially if they make money from it. It might seem radical, but it makes a lot of sense.

The arguments over whether we own our bodies and separated bodily material have been extensively debated. If we do own our bodies, shouldn’t our data also be owned by us – isn’t our data inherently who we are?

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Highlights of 2018

As you are inclined to do on Hogmanay, I was looking back at the year. 2018 was far from a great year but there were some fantastic moments. Here, in no particular order, are six of mine.

Gabriel in the Commons

 

One of my favourite moments was seeing young Gabriel Hames in the chamber of the House of Commons. Earlier, his mum, Jo Swinson, had taken part in the debate on proxy voting. A few weeks’ earlier, Tory Chairman Brandon Lewis reneged on a pairing arrangement with her on a key Brexit vote that the Government won by a handful of votes.

Jo’s speech was very candid about the realities of working with a young baby:

She also spoke about some of the appalling comments she got on Twitter after that, including the criticism that she had gone to the Trump demo for 45 minutes but couldn’t manage to vote in Parliament, something which would have meant hanging around for 5 hours.

Jo talked about the intricacies of establishing breastfeeding and how you need to concentrate on it during the early days. Her voice cracked with emotion as she talked about the difficulties she had establishing breastfeeding with her first son. I actually cried too as I remembered what it was like to be syringing expressed milk into my baby, 19 years on. She got there, though, with all the support that she needed.

She was also open about the realities of expressing milk several times a day. I think it’s fantastic that she posted a picture of her breast pump on Instagram the other day.

She talked about the need to have proper breastfeeding and expressing facilities for all nursing babies who work on the Parliamentary estate, recognising it was easier for her as she had her own office and control over her diary.

The People’s Vote March

It doesn’t get much better than being amongst 700,000 like minds on a beautiful hot Autumn day. As someone said at the time, marches like this are rarely on the wrong side of history.

It was an amazing atmosphere. Not far off three quarters of a million people peacefully and with great humour, coming together to make their point.

And there’s young Gabriel again.

Radical Kindness

Another highlight was the fringe meeting we held at Conference, trying to inject some kindness and warmth into a horrible atmosphere which developed in the media surrounding  rights of transgender people.

Barely a week goes by without some ill-informed attack on trans people or the charities supporting them. However, in an hour in Brighton, Emma Ritch from the Scottish feminist organisation Engender and James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance talked about how the atmosphere was so much better in Scotland and how feminist and LGBT organisations worked together in an inclusive way. The meeting loved the concept of “radical kindness” which underpinned their dialogue. You can read all about the meeting here

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LibLink: Olly Grender Paddy Ashdown leaves behind a legacy of profound decency and kindness

Olly Grender, who for so long was one of Paddy Ashdown’s closest colleagues, has written a lovely tribute to him in the New Statesman.

She highlights how he was willing to say things that weren’t popular but showed his commitment to liberal and humanitarian values:

“As Liberal Democrat leader (from 1988-1999) he “banged on about Bosnia” every week in parliament, to the groans of most MPs, but he was vindicated: a humanitarian atrocity was happening on Europe’s doorstep. He fought for the Hong Kong Chinese to obtain British citizenship, a deeply unpopular position

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Paddy Ashdown and the bobble hat

I joined the Liberal Democrats not long after the national coalition with the Conservatives was formed.

In 2011 my local party asked me to stand as the candidate in the ward where I lived and I accepted their offer.

The ward in question had been safely won by Labour for decades and no other party had previously campaigned there.

I wasn’t surprised to finish a poor third come polling day.

That didn’t stop me, following that election I set up the Southcote Liberal Democrats with a Facebook page, Twitter account and courtesy of ALDC a website.

Quarterly FOCUS leaflets were produced and delivered across one of the four polling districts.

Delivered by yours truly to a thousand or so addresses.

This was backed up by targetting letters to residents and surveying.

I picked up casework and ran campaigns.

The incumbent Labour councillors were not amused, they hadn’t seen this kind of activity from a rival party before.

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Reprise: Paddy’s four dangerous ideas

On the eve of the 2017 party conference, Paddy wrote two articles for us about where the party should go from here. Part 1 is here.. In Part 2, he outlines four “dangerous ideas” we should explore. 

So, here, as promised are four dangerous ideas for the future. Please be clear. I am not necessarily proposing these. Just asking why we are not even discussing them?

Dangerous idea 1

We are guiltily obsessed with student fees. The fact that we don’t need to be, because the principle is right, does not make life easier (how I wish we had called them a Graduate tax!). But now with the student loan debt rising, do we not also have to consider how we get better value for what students pay? If we have a tertiary education system which cannot be paid for without loading more and more debt on our young, should we not be looking at the system, not just at how they pay? We persist in the medieval practice of taking students to medieval ivy covered buildings, to receive their education in the medieval manner from minds, too many of which, when it comes to delivering education, are stuck in the middle ages. Yet distance learning was pioneered in Britain at the Open University when communicating with your tutor meant stuffing your academic paper in an envelope, licking it, sticking a stamp on it and putting it in the local post-box. Today the whole planet is into distance learning. Many of our own Universities make tons of money providing distance learning degree courses to students all over the world. But none of them are in Britain! If we were to convert at least part of our tertiary education syllabus to distance learning we might reduce the cost of degrees without diminishing their quality, give students more flexibility, force lecturers into the modern age, widen access and create a superb platform for adult education all at the same time. Why, beloved Lib Dems, do we allow medieval vested interests to preserve our ivy covered tertiary education system exactly as it is, loading more and more debt on students and preventing us from doing what much of the rest of the world is doing already? Just asking.

Dangerous idea 2

We have long understood that property owning rights are one of the foundation stones of democracy. Yet each of us, gives away our most intimate of property free and daily to the most powerful corporations, who make millions and millions from it.I am talking of course, about our personal data. Why do we Lib Dems not assert the citizens right to own their own data and to have control over how it is used? Why about proposing a law – perhaps a European one – which says to Messrs Amazon, Google, Starbucks etc, that they can use our personal data for their commercial purposes, but only with our permission and if they give us a share of the profits. Can you think of anything which would more alter the relationship between these masters of the commercial universe and the customers whose information they exploit for such enormous profit? Can you think of anything which would more empower the citizen in the market pace? Isn’t that what we Lib Dems are supposed to be about? So?

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Reprise: Paddy’s essay to the party on the eve of Conference

On the eve of the 2017 party conference, Paddy wrote two articles for us about where the party should go from here. Part 2 is here.. In Part 1 he challenges us to get thinking and bring forward new ideas.

I am getting old. Like most old men I have a tendency to be grumpy and claim that things aren’t as good as they were in the old days. Please bear this in mind when you read this.

I was trained as a Commando officer so I don’t know any other means of tackling a challenge than fix bayonets and charge. I don’t really do subtlety. Please remember that, too when you read on.

I am an enthusiast, and have a tendency to paint in large shapes and bright colours. What follows is Gaugin, not Canaletto. Please make allowance.

When you read this please finally note that I have been a committed and passionate Liberal since a canvasser knocked on my door forty-five year ago and explained what we stood for. That day, I put on Liberalism like an old coat waiting for me in the cupboard and I have worn it ever since with pride – come what may.

In all those long years I have never glanced to right, left or centre for a better political home for my beliefs than our Party – and that remains the case still. So please understand, if the words which follow offend, they are written with love.

So, now you have been warned, here goes.

There are good things – really good things – to celebrate as we gear up for Bournemouth. We have a multi talented Leader who deserves our whole-hearted support. We have 12 MPs in place of 9 before the last election. We still retain thousands of new members and we are winning local Council by-elections at a good rate.

But – didn’t you just know a ‘but’ was coming? – nevertheless, the biggest danger for our Party at the seaside next week lies in glossing over the existential challenges which now face us. Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and re-kindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.

Consider this. We are the Party who, more than any other, represents the progressive centre in our country (I prefer centre left, but I am not in the business of dividing here). That space has never been more empty, voiceless, vacant and uncontested than it was in the last election. And yet far from filling that gap and mobilising those in it, our vote went down to an even lower base. Not in my life time have their been conditions more favourable for a Lib Dem advance in a General Election. But we went backwards.

Now, with Labour and the Tories spinning way to the extremes, Britain is polarised as never before and the vast sea of people who share our beliefs, find themselves voiceless and silent.

Not all of them, sadly, are Liberal Democrats or want to be. Many belong to other Parties and many, many more do not belong to any party – or wish to, with party politics as they are.

Politics in Britain is unsustainable in its present state. The moderate, majority voice of our country, which usually determines elections, cannot be left so unrepresented. If we cannot, or will not be the gathering point for these, the new left out millions, then who will and what are we for?

Twice before in our recent history, others have moved onto our ground– once with the SDP and once in the early days of New Labour. Both times we reached out to these new forces and prospered as result. These days we look hostile to this possibility. We will be at very grave danger indeed if this should happen again in the near future and we stand aloof.

Our reluctance on this front does not just threaten our future. It also contributes to the disfigurement of our national politics. If we are to fulfil our historic role at a moment when liberalism is more at threat than ever in my life, then we have to be less tribal, more inclusive and more willing to engage others than we have sometimes seemed in recent years.

What does this mean?

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Paddy’s warning on the threats to democracy and peace

In his last speech to the House of Lords in January this year, Paddy had some strong words for both Donald Trump and the Brexiteers and some useful reflections on where the world should go from here.

Here is the speech in full:

My Lords, I will wait for noble Lords to perform the usual exodus. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem has just said, “What we want is genesis, not exodus”—which may well be correct.

I am privileged to lead this debate. For reasons that I will not bother the House with, I have been spending a lot of time recently doing some research into the 1930s. I am struck—actually, horrified—by the similarities between our suddenly turbulent and unpredictable age and those years. Then as now, nationalism and protectionism were on the rise; democracy seemed to have failed; people hungered for the government of great men; and those who suffered most from economic pain felt alienated and turned towards simplistic solutions and strident voices. Public institutions, conventional politics and the old establishments were everywhere mistrusted and disbelieved. Compromise was out of fashion; the centre collapsed in favour of extremes; the normal order of things did not function; change and even revolution was more appealing than the status quo; and fake news—built around the effective lie—carried more weight in public discourse than rational arguments and provable facts. Painting a lie on the side of a bus and driving it around the country would have seemed very normal in those days, too.

Perhaps the last time that we stood as close to large-scale conflict as we stand now in the world was at the height of the Cold War—but then we had a comfort which I fear we do not enjoy today. Then, the western liberal democracies stood together in defence of our interests and our shared values. Now it pains me to say that, under President Trump, the most powerful of our number thinks that standing together is less important than going it alone, that the abdication of leadership and responsibility is preferable to engaging in the international space and that collective action takes second place to “America First”.

Throughout the long years of the American century we have taken great comfort in the fact that our alliance with the United States and its Presidents has ​been built not just on shared interests but on shared values. Today we have to face the wrenching reality that this US President seems not to share our values; his recent racist comments have shockingly illuminated that fact. The liberal principles that have underpinned every civilised age, every peaceful period and every prosperous society are now under attack as never before, but President Trump appears more aligned with those forces ranged against liberal values than with those seeking to defend them. Throughout the American century we have taken comfort in the fact that the leader of the western world, although flawed like the rest of us, was well informed, judicious and cautious about going to war. Now I fear that we have an American President who seems all too frequently ignorant of the facts, unpredictable, foolhardy and reckless. Bang goes my invitation to the state dinner.

This is frightening stuff for those who, like me, place their faith in the Atlantic alliance. So what do we do about it? For the moment I fear that the answer is to grin and bear it in the hope that the US will find its way back to sanity. After all, we in Britain are not entirely free of this kind of lurch into stupidity ourselves. When the battle between the America that we know and love and Donald Trump ends, I think only one side will remain standing: either Donald Trump will destroy American democracy as we know it or American democracy will destroy Donald Trump. Personally, my money remains on the strength of that old and deep democracy.

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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.”

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Paddy “was the most heartfelt person I have known” – Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg has paid tribute to “his” leader, the man who brought him into the party and then supported him throughout his career and throughout the darkest days of the coalition:

My heart goes out to Jane and Paddy’s whole family.

Paddy was the reason I entered politics. He was the reason I became a liberal. And he became a lifelong mentor, friend and guide. Much will, rightly, be said about him in the days ahead. He was a soldier, a diplomat, a writer, a leader, a campaigner, a servant of his constituents, and an international statesman.

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Paddy – some Liberal Democrat reflections…

But whilst the political world is paying tribute, the loss is more acute to the family that is the Liberal Democrats. Here are some of the reactions from Twitter. For those of our readers who didn’t know Paddy as well, or for as long, perhaps these will give you a flavour of the man…

It turns out that so many people had pictures of themselves with Paddy…

And the stories…

Thanks for the memories, Paddy…

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Paddy and the Kooks

There will doubtless be so many personal tributes to Paddy. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of them.

There have been so many generous tributes from across politics. Nicholas Soames, for goodness sake, and Iain Dale and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Paddy was known for not being tribal.

Back in the Summer of 2016, he was involved in setting up More United, a cross party group aimed at getting generous spirited, internationalist people with a social conscience elected. I was initially pretty sceptical and had some questions for them. Paddy was right back at me within 24 hours.

As it happened, the MPs elected with its support have done some darned good stuff, from getting funding for access to elections for disabled candidates to developing a more liberal consensus on immigration to campaigning to restore the migrant impact fund and lots more.

Austin Rathe, once our Head of Membership, worked with Paddy at More United. He has given me permission to share the story he put on Facebook with you all.

Lots to say about Paddy, and we’ll all be to sharing memories in the coming days.

For now, I just wanted to share my favourite Paddy story, from about 18 months ago.

More United had an event for the people who had helped us launch, including Luke Pritchard from The Kooks.

Afterwards Paddy, Corinne Sawers and I go for dinner. The following conversation occurs:

Paddy: “Who was that guy with the curly hair you were talking to?”

Me: “He’s the singer in a band called The Kooks.”

“The Kooks? I’ve never heard of them.”

“Well Paddy, I promise you they’re pretty famous.”

At this point Paddy, unconvinced, turns to a guy at the next table, taps him in the shoulder and says.

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Paddy – some early tributes…

It is the mark of a person when, in the hours after their death, tributes come from less expected corners. Here are some of the early ones, from across the political spectrum and beyond…

First, from the world of politics…

But, of course, Paddy had a far wider impact on the world around him…

and in some more unexpected places…

But, for now, I’ll finish with a typical Paddy anecdote. If it had been anyone else, you probably wouldn’t believe it. But Paddy…

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Paddy – a few words on behalf of the Editorial Team

The news of Paddy Ashdown’s death tonight will have doubtless come as a shock to our readers, and to the wider Liberal Democrat family.

Members of the Liberal Democrat Voice Team, like so many Liberal Democrat activists and campaigners over the years, have our own Paddy stories, of kindnesses and of events. Paddy was seldom dull, even if you disagreed with him at any one time.

But, as the news of the death of a man many of us thought of as almost indestructible sinks in, we would like to offer our condolences to Jane, to the Ashdown family and friends. Our …

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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.

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Paddy’s blistering tweet about Jacob Rees-Mogg and the ERG

It’s not often we feature a single tweet but this classic blast of high octane Paddy deserves its own post!:

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Best wishes to Paddy

Paddy Ashdown revealed to Somerset Live today that he is being treated for bladder cancer:

Yes, I’m afraid I can confirm that. I have known for about three weeks that I am suffering from a cancer of the bladder.

I’m being effectively and wonderfully looked after by everyone at Yeovil Hospital, in whom I have complete confidence.

We must see about the outcome, which as always with things like this, is unpredictable.

I’ve fought a lot of battles in my life.

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Paddy gives short shrift to tyrant-slaying boast attributed to Brexit minister

Embed from Getty Images

In yesterday’s Sunday Times (£) there was a report of an interview with Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The interview was conducted by Tim Shipman and the report was entitled:

Dominic Raab: I saw off bully Slobodan Milosevic. Michel Barnier needs a softer touch

Now, I should preface this post with the proviso that The Times has form in regard to inaccurate précis via headline. It could be that the Sunday Times has now been infected with that dodgy headline disease.

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My passion for bold and radical Liberalism reaffirmed, as my time as SLF Chair comes to its end

Last September, Paddy Ashdown said that since the coalition, the Lib Dems had not managed to have even “one big, dangerous idea”.  He said in a blog for Lib Dem Voice:

Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and rekindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.

 It prompted him to launch the Ashdown Prize in March this year, and the winner was announced in June—Dorothy Ford, who proposed an idea on food waste which will be debated at the Autumn Conference.  In a blog on Lib Dem Voice, Caron Lindsay said that though the idea was “worthy”, it was “neither radical or new”.  This dearth of new ideas has been besieging the Lib Dems since 2010, and little seems to be changing.

At the Social Liberal Forum, we have been keeping the flame of new liberal ideas burning since the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Tories in 2010.  We feel that new ideas and renewal/rethinking of old liberal ideas is vital to being the radical force that Liberalism should currently be and always has been.  

I have been known by my colleagues to have said on various occasions, since I became Chair of the SLF in 2016, that “there has never been a more important time for Liberalism than now”.  I passionately believe this, so as my time as Chair draws to a close, and as nominations to the new SLF council are underway, I am re-affirming the vital importance of new, bold, radical ideas that will keep Liberalism as the relevant and necessary force in British politics that it needs to be.

The book that the SLF published earlier this year, Four Go In Search of Big Ideas, was significant for several reasons: it showed that there are many progressive, liberal people out there thinking radically, coherently and sensibly about what we need to do next as a society; that we do not need to be tribal, but can work with others to generate progressive ideas; and that liberal and progressive thinkers are and always have been the people to move politics forward in this country.

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Paddy rallies the troops at Lewisham

It was great to spend a day campaigning for Lucy Salek in Lewisham East yesterday. It was my second time helping the campaign, greatly assisted by an off-peak Travelcard, which allowed fulsome use of the train, tube and bus. Tragically, there was a fatal incident on the line yesterday around Hither Green and Lee stations, meaning that I ended up, to my surprise, in New Eltham, at one point.

Anyway, our enormous HQ was brimming with volunteers all day. A hive of industry. There were people there from as far afield as Falmouth. It was particularly good to join in the traditional Blue envelope addressing work!

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Paddy: Trump’s tweets could trigger war

Paddy Ashdown has been speaking to PoliticsHome about the development of UK foreign policy in the age of Trump and how the US President’s unpredictable actions have an unsettling impact on the world.

“It does not mean that the Atlantic axis is going to be less important, but it ceases to be our primary axis on which to base our defence and probably our foreign policy as well.”

“That relationship must be much more mature, where both sides realise that there will be times when their interests in the world diverge,” he explains, citing US policy on Iran and Israel as two examples.

Beyond these ‘differing interests’ Ashdown presses the Government to  distance itself from the “irrational” Trump approach on “tinder pile” issues like North Korea.

He says the Trump tactic – of mocking and baiting Kim Jong Un on Twitter, alongside battle-cry threats of “fire and fury” – simply creates a space for North Korea to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, as shown by its offer of talks and participation in the upcoming winter Olympics in South Korea.

“We are used to a US president who is careful, thoughtful, intelligent and well informed, and we don’t have that now at the moment at all,” Ashdown laments.

“I can see five piles of tinder around the world, any one of which through inadvertence, stupidity or just blundering could be set alight… any one of which could have the capacity to ignite a much wider conflagration. And you want somebody blundering around the world, firing off tweets? In these very difficult circumstances I don’t think that’s the way to make a safer world. In a world as fragile, turbulent and close to war on several fronts as ours, I don’t think that’s a balanced and wise strategy.”

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Paddy Ashdown: China vs Trump could cause Pacific conflict

Paddy Ashdown has been in Hong Kong this week, talking to the Foreign Correspondents Club about international relations and how the relationship between the Chinese leadership and Donald Trump could unfold. It’s not a pretty sight. Here is his speech in full. He revisits the theme of many of his speeches in recent years about the change in the global balance of power as China’s influence increases. He also has some candid and critical comments about the UK’s time governing Hong Kong.

Peace in the Pacific Region, and very probably the wider world, will depend on two questions.

How will the United States cope with decline?

And how will China fulfil her potential as a super power.

Not long after I returned from Bosnia in 2006, in the middle of the era of small wars, I was asked if great wars were now a thing of the past. I replied no; unhappily the habit of war, large and small, seems inextricably locked into the human gene. But I did not believe that, once we were passed the fossil fuel era, the most likely place for a great conflagration would be the Middle East. If we wanted to see where future great wars might occur, we should look to those regions where mercantilism was leading to an increase in nationalist sentiment and imperialist attitudes, as it did in Europe in the nineteenth century. The only region in the world, I concluded, which matched this description, was the Pacific basin. Nothing I have seen in the intervening decade alters this judgement.

We live in one of those periods of history where the structures of power in the world shift. These are almost always turbulent times and all too often, conflict ridden ones too. How new powers rise and old powers fall, is one of the prime determinants of peace in times like this. The Pacific basin is about to be the cockpit in which this drama is about to be played out

The United States is the most powerful nation on earth and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. But the context in which she holds that power is completely different from what it was. Over the last hundred years or so – the American century – we have lived in a mono-polar world dominated by the American Colossus. This is no longer true. We live now in a multi polar-world – by the way very similar to Nineteenth century Europe where balance among the five powers – the so called Concert of Europe – meant peace and imbalance meant war.

We have seen this before. The end of the European empires after the Second World war led to great instability and much conflict, not least in this region. Britain, by and large, accepted her decline and, mostly, dealt with it in a measured and civilised fashion. We will come onto what that means for Hong Kong in a moment. France, by contrast lashed about soaking first Indo China and then North Africa in blood. The Belgians were even worse in the Belgian Congo.

How the United States copes with her relative decline from the world’s only super power, to primus inter pares in a multi-polar world, is one of the great questions which will decide what happens in this region in the next decade. President Obama seemed to understand this. President Trump, it seems does not. His policies of isolationism, protectionism and confrontation towards China are foolish and dangerous. It is foolish because he is abandoning American leadership of the multilateral space and that will not strengthen America as he suggests, but hasten her decline. Its is dangerous because US isolationism will weaken multilateral instruments which are the only means of resolving conflicts and tackling global problems, such as climate change.

China’s position as a mercantile super-power is already established. It was inevitable that she should now seek to consolidate her trading strength by becoming a political and military super power, too. This is a perfectly natural ambition. It’s the way super powers behave – indeed it’s the way they have to behave to protect their position. This therefore, should not, in and of itself, be a matter of alarm or criticism.

It is natural too – and good – that China should seek to fill the vacuum of leadership in regional and global multilateral institutions left by President Trump’s retreat from this space. It is far better for us all to have an engaged China, than an isolated one.

The last great strategic opportunity faced by the West was the fall of the Soviet Union. We should then have reached out to engage Russia, to draw her in, to help her re-build and reform. Instead we foolishly treated Moscow with triumphalism and humiliation, orchestrated largely by Washington. The result was inevitable and he’s called Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin.

We are now faced with a second equivalent opportunity. Can we reach out to build constructive relationships with a rising China?

On the face of it, the signs have been hopeful.

China has seemed keen to be a good world citizen. She has engaged constructively in multilateral institutions – look at the WTO as an example; look at her support for the UN Security Council resolution on sanctions for North Korea; look at her engagement with international forces to tackle the scourge of the Somali pirates around the Horn of Africa; look at her participation in international disaster relief – for instance in north east Pakistan; look at her involvement with UN peace keeping to which she has committed more troops under multi-national command than the United States and Europe combined. Yes, they are mostly in Africa where she has good reasons to want to keep the peace. But there is nothing new in that. Western nations too only send troops to keep the peace, where it is in their interests to do so.

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Paddy Ashdown writes…An essay to my party on the eve of Conference: Four dangerous ideas

So, here, as promised are four dangerous ideas for the future. Please be clear. I am not necessarily proposing these. Just asking why we are not even discussing them?

Dangerous idea 1

We are guiltily obsessed with student fees. The fact that we don’t need to be, because the principle is right, does not make life easier (how I wish we had called them a Graduate tax!). But now with the student loan debt rising, do we not also have to consider how we get better value for what students pay? If we have a tertiary education system which cannot be paid for without loading more and more debt on our young, should we not be looking at the system, not just at how they pay? We persist in the medieval practice of taking students to medieval ivy covered buildings, to receive their education in the medieval manner from minds, too many of which, when it comes to delivering education, are stuck in the middle ages. Yet distance learning was pioneered in Britain at the Open University when communicating with your tutor meant stuffing your academic paper in an envelope, licking it, sticking a stamp on it and putting it in the local post-box. Today the whole planet is into distance learning. Many of our own Universities make tons of money providing distance learning degree courses to students all over the world. But none of them are in Britain! If we were to convert at least part of our tertiary education syllabus to distance learning we might reduce the cost of degrees without diminishing their quality, give students more flexibility, force lecturers into the modern age, widen access and create a superb platform for adult education all at the same time. Why, beloved Lib Dems, do we allow medieval vested interests to preserve our ivy covered tertiary education system exactly as it is, loading more and more debt on students and preventing us from doing what much of the rest of the world is doing already? Just asking.

Dangerous idea 2

We have long understood that property owning rights are one of the foundation stones of democracy. Yet each of us, gives away our most intimate of property free and daily to the most powerful corporations, who make millions and millions from it.I am talking of course, about our personal data. Why do we Lib Dems not assert the citizens right to own their own data and to have control over how it is used? Why about proposing a law – perhaps a European one – which says to Messrs Amazon, Google, Starbucks etc, that they can use our personal data for their commercial purposes, but only with our permission and if they give us a share of the profits. Can you think of anything which would more alter the relationship between these masters of the commercial universe and the customers whose information they exploit for such enormous profit? Can you think of anything which would more empower the citizen in the market pace? Isn’t that what we Lib Dems are supposed to be about? So?

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LibLink: Paddy Ashdown: Tories’ Royal Marine cut plays fast and loose with UK defence

It makes sense that Paddy should write for the Plymouth Herald on defence given the city’s strategic importance.

He took the Government to task for cutting the Marines – about which he knows more than most people:

For more than three centuries – from Gibraltar and Trafalgar to Normandy and Afghanistan – the Royal Marines have epitomised those qualities. They have fought in more theatres and won more battles than any other British unit. In our nation’s hours of danger, they have been, as Lord St Vincent predicted in 1802, “the country’s sheet anchor”.

So the news that the Government is cutting 200 Royal Marine posts – at such a volatile time in world affairs – should concern us all. They are committing this folly in response to a crisis of their own making.

The cost of Conservative foolishness doesn’t end with the Royal Marines. They’ve cut personnel numbers, breaking their manifesto promise not to reduce the Army below 82,000. Troops on the frontline are deprived of basic equipment and combat training has been slashed, putting soldiers’ lives in greater peril. Warships sit idle at quaysides. No wonder top generals have accused the Government of “deception” over defence.

The Tories are very practised at talking tough on defence in elections. But look at the history: it’s always Tories who cut most on defence in government. It’s now clear that Mrs May will get back in because of the hopelessness of the Labour Party. But it would be very dangerous to give her a big enough majority to ignore us again.

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Paddy: Royal Marines paying the price of two floating white elephants

In a typically passionate and knowledgeable intervention, ex-Royal Marine Paddy Ashdown has attacked cuts of 200 posts in his former fighting unit:

In an unpredictable age, we need forces that are fast, flexible and mobile. That’s what the Royal Marines do at a world-class level.

To cut their numbers to fill a Naval manpower black hole is not just poor reward for their service over the last years, but a folly which plays fast and loose with the nation’s defences.

The Royal Marines have carried the greatest burden in the defence of our country over the last decade – they have fought in more theatres and won more battles than any other British unit. They are also the crucial manpower pool from which we draw many of our Special Forces.

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Lib Dems respond to US air strikes on Syria

It was quite disconcerting to wake up this morning to see that Donald Trump had launched air strikes. There is no question that Syria needs to be dealt with. You just can’t have any government getting away with gassing its own people. I just feel uneasy about Donald Trump being in charge of this. Does he even have a proper strategy? I also feel uneasy about our Government just slipping into line behind him.

On Question Time last night, Tim Farron was talking about the importance of establishing no fly zones and of humanitarian aid, but made clear that doing nothing was not an option in the face of an attack as horrific as the one we saw earlier this week.

He has since described Trump’s action as “proportionate” but went on to say that our Government’s response was not sufficient:

The attack by American forces was a proportionate response to the barbarous attack by the Syrian government on its own people.

The British government rather than just putting out a bland statement welcoming this should now follow it up and call an emergency meeting of the Nato alliance to see what else can be done, be that more surgical strikes or no fly zones.

Evil happens when good people do nothing, we cannot sit by while a dictator gasses his own people. We cannot stand by, we must act.

I don’t always agree with what they say, but in situations like this, I always look for the views of three people: Paddy, Ming and Julie Smith

On Twitter, Paddy said:

I also had a conversation with Julie on Twitter:

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LibLInk: Paddy Ashdown: Theresa May’s Brexit is not what people voted for. They deserve another say

Paddy Ashdown set out his view of Theresa May’s Brexit speech in a typically blistering article in the Independent:

Nobody voted, he says, for the Britain the Tories have planned, as revealed by Phlilip Hammond over the weekend:

Last weekend in Germany, Chancellor Philip Hammond blurted out the truth about the course May has chosen. Retain the closest economic links with the EU, he said, and Britain will remain a broadly European-style nation. If we cast off all our European moorings and head for the open sea, we risk having to turn ourselves into a low-tax, no-regulation, cheap-labour equivalent of Singapore. Then, among other things we have come to take for granted and enjoy in our country, we would say goodbye to workplace rights, the welfare state as we know it, policies to protect our environment and European style protections for our civil liberties.

The people should have their say on this, he says (unsurprisingly)

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Senior Liberal Democrats respond to Theresa May’s hard Brexit

We brought you Tim Farron’s response to Theresa May’s announcement that Britain is seeking reckless isolation, but what have other Liberal Democrats been saying about it.

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder:

This government’s pursuit of a hard Brexit and pulling Britain out of the Single Market will mean losing so much more than just free trading arrangements.

Theresa May’s hard Brexit will strip future generations of the life-changing opportunities to travel, work and study across Europe.

Millions who voted both Remain and Leave on 23rd June don’t endorse this extreme version of Brexit. It must be the people who have a say on any final Brexit deal.

The EU referendum left Britain deeply divided and it seems Theresa May is intent on stoking further discord and division.

Sooner or later this Conservative Brexit government will realise that it cannot govern for only those who endorse Nigel Farage’s vision for Europe.

 

Paddy Ashdown:

Willie Rennie: The Conservatives are hell bent on a hard Brexit that nobody voted for

Nick Clegg:

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