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He made a difference – Lib Dems pay emotional tribute to Lord Paddy Ashdown

UK News | Published:

The former leader helped revive his party’s fortunes during his 11-year tenure.

Lord Paddy Ashdown

A former prime minister, deputy prime minister and party leader Jo Swinson all heralded the life and career of Lord Paddy Ashdown in a moving tribute at the Liberal Democrat party conference.

Ms Swinson was among those – including his wife Jane, ex-prime minister Tony Blair and ex-deputy prime minister and former leader Nick Clegg – who paid warm tribute to the late former party leader.

In a moment that moved many members close to tears, a former colleague revealed how the former Royal Marine, who passed away from cancer in December, had personally bestowed a proper burial to those massacred in the Srebrenica massacre while High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In a video montage played in the Bournemouth auditorium, Ms Swinson recalled meeting Lord Ashdown, who led the party for more than a decade, for the first time at conference in 1998.

Jane Courtenay
Jane Courtenay, widow of Lord Ashdown, watches a tribute to her late husband during the Liberal Democrats autumn conference in Bournemouth (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The East Dunbartonshire MP said he had sat astride a chair during a youth event ready to “engage in some good debate with the next generation of the party”.

“That sensibility, that openness, those are hallmarks of Paddy,” said the party leader.

Deputy leader Sir Ed Davey said Lord Ashdown, who died aged 77, was “the person who got me over the line” in joining the party with his political “clarity”.

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In a landmark result for the party at the time, the Lib Dems went from having 18 to 46 MPs after the 1997 general election.

Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, who won a landslide majority at that same election, described his former rival as a “patriot but committed to a country celebrating its diversity”.

His widow Jane recalled how the pair were “children when we got married” and were together for 60 years, adding: “I miss him terribly and so do the kids.”

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She described him as a “fantastic father”, joking: “He only ever changed one nappy.”

Ian Patrick, private secretary to Lord Ashdown when he was in Bosnia from 2002 to 2006, brought tears to the eyes of some in the conference hall as he told of how the former Army captain helped bury those killed in the Srebrenica massacre.

When Lord Ashdown found there was still no final resting place for those murdered in the genocide during the Bosnian war, he worked for almost two years to open a cemetery so 6,500 of the dead could be properly buried.

Mr Patrick recalled how Lord Ashdown had carried bodies himself into the graves when the cemetery opened.

“It was a hot day in 2003 and, as in Islamic tradition, the women were waiting for the men to come around to bury their sons and, of course, there were not enough men to do so.

“So, taking off his jacket, he entered the grave and, on that day, helped a mother bury her son.

“On that day, to that woman, Paddy made a difference. To the people of Bosnia Herzegovina, he made a difference.

“To the people of Yeovil who he represented for 18 years, he made a difference. To this party, he made a difference as he prepared us for government in 2010.

“To everyone who has ever known Paddy or inspired by his leadership, he made a difference – and that is his greatest tribute.”

Jo Philips, who worked in Lord Ashdown’s office when he was leader, drew laughs as she recalled how the multi-linguist was “hopeless with names” and former North Devon MP Nick Harvey said his old boss would always be the first person up in the mornings and the “first in the pub”.

Mr Harvey added: “For those of us privileged to work with him at close quarters, we will remember him with affection as a force of nature, inspiring team mate and a loyal friend and, for all his pitfalls, we loved him.”

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