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Paddy Ashdown

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Paddy Ashdown

The Right Honourable
The Lord Ashdown
of Norton-sub-Hamdon

Lord Ashdown at the Financial Times Summer Party, June 2011.
High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina
In office
27 May 2002 – 30 May 2006
Preceded by Wolfgang Petritsch
Succeeded by Christian Schwarz-Schilling
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
In office
16 July 1988 – 11 August 1999
Deputy Russell Johnston
Alan Beith
Preceded by David Steel (Liberal Party)
Robert Maclennan (SDP)
Succeeded by Charles Kennedy
Member of Parliament
for Yeovil
In office
9 June 1983 – 7 June 2001
Preceded by John Peyton
Succeeded by David Laws
Personal details
Born Jeremy John Durham Ashdown
(1941-02-24) 24 February 1941
New Delhi, British Raj
Nationality British
Political party Liberal Democrats
Spouse(s) Jane Courtenay (1962–present)
Children Son and daughter
Alma mater Bedford School
Military service
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Marines
Years of service 1959–1972
Rank Captain
Unit Special Boat Service
Battles/wars Indonesian Confrontation

Jeremy John Durham Ashdown, Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, GCMG, CHKBEPC (born 27 February 1941),[1] usually known as Paddy Ashdown, is a British politician and former diplomat who served as Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 1988 until August 1999.

After serving as a Royal Marine and as an intelligence officer in the UK security services, Ashdown became a Member of Parliament (MP) for Yeovil from 1983 to 2001; later he served as International High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 27 May 2002 to 30 May 2006, following his vigorous lobbying for military action against Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He was the Chair of the Liberal Democrats' 2015 general election team.[2] A polyglot, Ashdown has an interpretership qualification in Mandarin and is fluent in several other languages.

Ashdown has received national recognition for his services by appointment as 2006 New Year Honours and Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2015 New Year Honours.[3][4]


  • Early life 1
    • Royal Marines and Special Boat Section 1.1
    • Intelligence officer and diplomat 1.2
  • Political career 2
  • Member of Parliament 3
    • In Parliament 3.1
    • Leader of Liberal Democrats 3.2
    • Resignation and retirement 3.3
    • Offer of Cabinet post 3.4
  • High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina 4
    • Witness for the prosecution at the trial of Slobodan Milošević 4.1
  • UN representative for Afghanistan 5
  • Other positions 6
  • Personal life 7
  • National honours 8
  • Styles 9
  • See also 10
  • Footnotes 11
  • Bibliography 12
  • External links 13

Early life

Lord Ashdown is the eldest of seven children: he has four brothers and two sisters.[5] He was born in New Delhi, India,[6] on 24 February 1941[7] to a family of soldiers and colonial administrators who spent their lives in India.[8] His father was a lapsed Catholic, and his mother a Protestant. His mother was a QA nurse.[9] Ashdown's father, John William Richard Durham Ashdown (1909–1980), was an Indian Army officer in the 14th Punjab Regiment and the Royal Indian Army Service Corps and in 1944 attained the rank of T/Lt.Col.[10] During the retreat to Dunkirk in May 1940, John Ashdown ignored an order to abandon the men of the 32nd Animal Transport Company (Mule) under his command, instead leading them to the port and on to one of the last ships to leave, without losing a single man. Although court-martialled for disobeying orders, he was exonerated, and by the end of the War had risen to the rank of colonel.[11]

Lord Ashdown was largely brought up in Northern Ireland, where his father bought a farm in 1945[6] near Donaghadee.[12] He was educated first at a local primary school, then as a weekly boarder at Garth House Preparatory School in Bangor[12] and from age 11 at Bedford School in England, where his accent earned him the nickname "Paddy".[12]

Royal Marines and Special Boat Section

After his father's business collapsed, Lord Ashdown passed the naval scholarship examination to pay for his school fees,[13] but left before taking A-levels and joined the Royal Marines in 1959,[12] serving until 1972,[6] retiring with the rank of Captain. He served in Borneo during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation and the Persian Gulf[5] before training as a Swimmer Canoeist in 1965, after which he joined the elite Special Boat Section and commanded a Section in the Far East.[6] He then went to Hong Kong in 1967 to undertake a full-time interpreter's course in Chinese,[13] and returned to Britain in 1970 when he was given command of a Royal Marine company in Belfast.[6]

Intelligence officer and diplomat

Ashdown left the Royal Marines to join the Helsinki Conference.[16]

Political career

While in the Marines, Ashdown had been a supporter of the Labour Party but defected to the Liberal Party in 1975. He had a comfortable life in Switzerland, where he lived with his wife Jane and their two children Simon and Katherine in a large house on the shores of Lake Geneva, enjoying plenty of time for sailing, skiing and climbing.[15] Ashdown decided to enter politics due to living during the era of two general elections in one year and the Three-Day Week.[13] He said that "most of my friends thought it was utterly bonkers" to leave the diplomatic service, but that he had "a sense of purpose".[17]

In 1976 Ashdown was selected as the Liberal Party's prospective parliamentary candidate in his wife's home constituency of Yeovil in Somerset,[15] and took a job with Normalair Garrett, then part of the Yeovil-based Westland Group. Yeovil's Liberal candidate had been placed second in February 1974[18] and third in the October 1974 general election,[19] and Ashdown's objective was to "squeeze" the local Labour vote to enable him to defeat the Conservatives,[15] who had held the seat since its creation in 1918.[20] He subsequently worked for Tescan, and was unemployed for a time after that firm's closure in 1981, before becoming a youth worker with Dorset County Council's Youth Service, working on initiatives to help the young unemployed.[8][16]

Member of Parliament

In the 1979 general election which returned the Conservatives to power, Ashdown regained second place, establishing a clear lead of 9% over the Labour candidate.[21] The Conservative majority of 11,382[21] was still large enough to be regarded as a safe seat; when the sitting MP John Peyton stood down at the 1983 general election to be made a life peer, however, Ashdown had gained momentum after his years of local campaigning.[22] The Labour vote fell to only 5.5% and Ashdown won the seat with a majority of over 3,000,[23] a swing from the Conservatives of 11.9% against a national swing of 4% to the Conservatives.

In Parliament

Ashdown had long been on his party's social democratic wing, supporting the 1977 Lib-Lab pact,[15] and the SDP–Liberal Alliance. In the early 1980s he was a prominent campaigner against the deployment in Europe of American nuclear-armed cruise missiles, describing them at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally in Hyde Park in 1983 as "the front end of the whole anti-nuclear struggle. It is the weapon we HAVE to stop."[24]

Shortly after entering the House of Commons, he was appointed SDP–Liberal Alliance spokesman on Trade and Industry and then on Education.[16] He opposed the privatisation of the Royal Ordnance Factories in 1984, in 1986 he criticised the Thatcher Government for allowing the United States to bomb Libya from UK bases, and in 1987 he campaigned against the loss of trade union rights by workers at GCHQ.[15]

Leader of Liberal Democrats

Paddy Ashdown in Chippenham during the 1992 General Election campaign

When the Liberal Party merged in 1988 with the Social Democrats to form the Social and Liberal Democrats (the name was later shortened to "Liberal Democrats"), he was elected as the new party's leader and made a Privy Councillor in January 1989.[25]

Ashdown led the Liberal Democrats into two general elections, in 1992 and 1997. The LibDems recorded a net loss of two seats in 1992, when the party was still recovering from the after-effects of the 1988 merger. However at the 1997 election, the Liberal Democrats won 46 seats, their best performance since the 1920s, though they did take a smaller share of the vote than they had done at the 1992 election.[26]

Between 1993 and 1997, he was a notable proponent of co-operation between the Liberal Democrats and "New Labour", and had regular secret meetings with Tony Blair to discuss the possibility of a coalition government. This was despite Labour's opinion poll showings from late 1992 onwards virtually all suggesting that they would gain a majority at the next election, particularly in the first year or so of Blair's leadership following his appointment in the summer of 1994. The discussions began in early 1993, while the party was still being led by Blair's predecessor John Smith, who died suddenly in May 1994. After Blair was elected as Labour leader that summer, the talks continued.[27]

However, there was never any need for a coalition, as the 1997 general election ended in a landslide victory for Labour. The election also saw a breakthrough for the Liberal Democrats; despite receiving fewer votes than in 1992, they increased their representation from 18 to 46. A "Joint Cabinet Committee" (JCC) including senior Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians was then created to discuss the implementation of the two parties' shared priorities for constitutional reform; its remit was later expanded to include other issues on which Blair and Ashdown saw scope for co-operation between the two parties. Ashdown's successor as Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, deliberately allowed the JCC to slip into abeyance until it effectively stopped meeting.[28]

Resignation and retirement

Ashdown announced his intention to resign as Leader of the Liberal Democrats on 20 January 1999,[29] departing on 9 August that year after 11 years in the role, and was succeeded by

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Peyton
Member of Parliament for Yeovil
Succeeded by
David Laws
Party political offices
Preceded by
David Steel
and Robert Maclennan
Leader of the British
Liberal Democrats

Succeeded by
Charles Kennedy
Political offices
Preceded by
Wolfgang Petritsch
High Representative for
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Succeeded by
Christian Schwarz-Schilling
  • Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon profile at the site of Liberal Democrats
  • Office of the High Representative in BiH
  • Profile at Parliament of the United Kingdom
  • Contributions in Parliament at Hansard 1803–2005
  • Current session contributions in Parliament at Hansard
  • Voting record at
  • Record in Parliament at
  • Profile at Westminster Parliamentary Record
  • Profile at BBC News Democracy Live
  • Articles authored at Journalisted
  • Column archive at The Guardian
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
  • Paddy Ashdown collected news and commentary at The Guardian
  • Catalogue of the papers of Paddy Ashdown at London School of Economics Archives
  • "After Iraq – Shall we ever intervene again?", lecture by Ashdown, given at Gresham College, 15 May 2007 (download as video or audio files)
  • Audio: Lord Paddy Ashdown in conversation on the BBC World Service discussion show The Forum
  • Paddy Ashdown at TED

External links

  • (2000) The Ashdown Diaries vol 1. 1988–1997, ISBN 0-14-029775-8
  • (2001) The Ashdown Diaries vol 2. 1997–1999, ISBN 0-14-029776-6
  • (2008) Swords And Ploughshares: Building Peace in the 21st Century, ISBN 0-297-85303-1
  • (2010) A Fortunate Life: The Autobiography of Paddy Ashdown, ISBN 978-1-84513-419-8
  • (2012) A Brilliant Little Operation: The Cockleshell Heroes and the Most Courageous Raid of World War 2, ISBN 1845137019


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 61092. p. N28. 31 December 2014.
  4. ^ 2015 New Year Honours List
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b c d e
  7. ^  – via Questia (subscription required)
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c d
  13. ^ a b c d
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b c d e f g
  16. ^ a b c
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 55879. p. 7. 19 June 2000.
  35. ^ The London Gazette: no. 56275. p. 8373. 16 July 2011. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  36. ^ {}
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ a b c
  43. ^ United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: Milošević trial transcript 7 July 2005 Page 42036 Line 7 & 12 July 2005 Page 42205 Line 1
  44. ^ a b c
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^ Interpeace "Governing Council" Retrieved on 7 February 2012
  51. ^ Patrons, Presidents, Council and Directors – Chatham House Retrieved on 29 September 2012
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 57855. p. N3. 31 December 2005. Retrieved 31 July 2008.


See also

  • Paddy Ashdown (1941–1983)
  • Paddy Ashdown MP (1983–1989)
  • The Rt Hon Paddy Ashdown MP (1989–2000)
  • The Rt Hon Sir Paddy Ashdown KBE MP (2000–2001)
  • The Rt Hon Sir Paddy Ashdown KBE (2001)
  • The Rt Hon The Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon KBE PC (2001–2006)
  • The Rt Hon The Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE PC (2006–2014)
  • The Rt Hon The Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG CH KBE PC (2015–present)


National honours

Lord Ashdown supports Yeovil Town F.C. and attends some matches.[54] He also is a member of the National Liberal Club.

Ashdown married Jane Courtenay in 1962. The couple have a son, Simon, and daughter, Katharine, along with three grandchildren. In 1992 following the press becoming aware of a stolen document relating to a divorce case, he disclosed a five-month affair with his secretary, Patricia Howard, five years earlier. He and his marriage weathered the political and tabloid storm, with his wife of 30 years forgiving him.[15][52] The revelation of his affair sparked the front page headline "It's Paddy Pantsdown" from The Sun newspaper on 6 February 1992.[53]

Personal life

[51].Chatham House and also serves as President of [50] Lord Ashdown is a member of the Governing Council of

Other positions

Lord Ashdown was also interested to be a possible candidate to take charge of the Allied effort in Afghanistan;[45][46] an unnamed source is quoted in a 16 January Reuters report indicating that Lord Ashdown, when approached by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, accepted the post.[47] However he later decided against taking the role, after gleaning that Afghanistan preferred General Sir John McColl over him.[48] On 7 March 2008 Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide was appointed as the UN representative for Afghanistan, stating "I'm not Paddy Ashdown, but don't under-estimate me."[49]

UN representative for Afghanistan

After the Delić claims, Ashdown supplied the Tribunal with grid coordinates and a cross section of the ground indicating that he could indeed see the locations concerned.[44] These coordinates indicated he was on the Kosovo-Albania border, which was a sealed border at the time.[44] The prosecution also used some new maps indicating Ashdown's location, but their accuracy was challenged by Delić, as the location of a village was different from other maps of the area.[44]

In July 2005 a defence witness, General Božidar Delić, claimed to demonstrate with a topographical map of the area that Ashdown could not have been able to see the areas that he claimed to be able to see as hills, mountains and thick woods obstructed his view.[43]

On 14 March 2002, Ashdown testified as a witness for the prosecution at the trial of Slobodan Milošević at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.[42] He said that he was on the Kosovo-Albania border near Junik in June 1998.[42] From this location, through his binoculars, Ashdown claimed to have seen Serbian forces shelling several villages.[42]

Witness for the prosecution at the trial of Slobodan Milošević

After leaving frontline British politics, he accepted the post of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina on 27 May 2002,[39] reflecting his long-time advocacy of international intervention in that region. He succeeded Wolfgang Petritsch in the position created under the Dayton Agreement. Paddy Ashdown had many successes during his time as High Representative, including strengthening the central state institutions, bringing in statewide legal bodies such as State Investigation and Protection Agency and bringing the two ethnic armies under a central civilian command. He is sometimes denigrated as "the Viceroy of Bosnia" by critics of his work as High Representative.[40][41]

Lord Ashdown with General Colin Powell in 2004

High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina

In June 2007, the BBC reported that Ashdown had been offered, and rejected, the Cabinet post of Northern Ireland Secretary by incoming Labour Party Prime Minister Gordon Brown.[38] Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell had already ruled out the idea that members of his party would take seats in a Brown Cabinet, but, according to the reports, Brown still proceeded to approach Ashdown with the offer.

Offer of Cabinet post

In retirement Ashdown became a regular voice for the Liberal Democrats. At the 2015 General Election he appeared on the BBC soon after the announcement of the exit poll which predicted that the Liberal Democrats would be reduced from 57 MPs to 10. Ashdown stated that he would eat his hat if the exit poll was correct. The actual result was that the Liberal Democrats returned eight MPs but the technical difference from the exit poll was not enough to save him from several requests to carry out his vow. Some commentators suggested humorously that this was an example of Liberal Democrats breaking their promises in response to u-turns conducted while in coalition government.[36] However, Ashdown did keep his promise one day following the election on the BBC's Question Time programme, in which he was presented with a chocolate hat that he later ate.[37]

He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 2000[34] and was created a Life Peer as Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, of Norton-sub-Hamdon in the County of Somerset on 10 July 2001,[35] in the House of Lords, on 16 July 2001 after retiring from the Commons one month previously. In the 2001 election, the Yeovil seat was retained for the Liberal Democrats by David Laws. Ashdown was conferred in 2001 with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Bournemouth University and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Bath.


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