Aurum £20

A Fortunate Life, By Paddy Ashdown

Politics is war by other means in this memoir

Everything in Paddy Ashdown's life seems to have been a battle: his soldiering, getting into parliament, and his marriage, by the sound of it. Ashdown writes of politics: "If you make a mistake you usually pay the price very quickly. It is this that makes it more exciting – and often more terrifying – than active service. For on active service nothings happens for 90 per cent of the time. But in politics things happen all the time, and the bullets can start flying just when you least expect them."

Had it not already been taken, "My Struggle" might have served as a suitable title for this volume of memoirs, riddled as they are by these bullets of military analogy. The 18-year-old Ashdown is depicted as "setting out to battle with the world"; as a party leader he is scrapping over the political "open ground"; and all his life the SAS motto "Who Dares Wins" has been a "statement of wisdom". Were it not for some last minute diplomatic wrangling a year ago, he might now be our man in Kabul, advising the Americans on their battles with the Taliban.

Battles have been lost, too. He is still angry about how the West abandoned Bosnia to its fate – ethnic cleansing – 15 years ago. The "shameless inactivity of my country" in the face of the "beasts of intolerance and bigotry" still rankles, as does his own failure, early on, to read the likes of Radovan Karadic: "I still believed, naively, that it must be possible to see great evil in a man's face." In a swipe at where politics is now, he says he is happy to have been a politician "while politics was still a calling".

After two volumes of Diaries, 10 years near the top of politics, and the events that saw the "hurtful" nickname "Pantsdown" conferred on him by a gifted Sun sub-editor, most of the bullet holes are fairly familiar. A Fortunate Life adds in light and shade – background, childhood, the years of active service in Borneo, and much of his home life.

Personally, I could have done without quite so many pet anecdotes, and without the account of his first sexual encounter, which is told in disturbing detail. Just in case you needed to know, Paddy went from boy to man when he was 15, with a tipsy, busty and married maths teacher, which, I admit, might make some of us envious. However, were they fiction, these sweaty, testosterone-soaked paragraphs would surely be a contender for the Literary Review's 2009 Bad Sex Award for terrible erotic writing.

Mostly, though, Ashdown's candour is engaging, and he is honest about his failings (vanity, poor team player, and being "excessively Irish", according to one school report). The revelation that one of his distant relatives was a "boot maker and brothel keeper" seemed about right. I was more surprised to read the very private information that "money has been one of the most contentious issues in our marriage and the cause of most of our rows". Ashdown is generous to his wife, Jane, who is often mentioned as bearing the burdens of his "fortunate life". Fortunate it may have been, and comfortable now, but it has not always been prosperous. His 10-year journey from unemployed Liberal candidate in a no hope seat to party leader is an impressive one. Occasionally you glimpse the resentment he feels about Tony Blair's relatively easy ride to the top.

This must be the first political memoir to offer advice on the best way to execute a jungle ambush (a distance of 70 yards is ideal) and on how to treat an open wound using red ants. But it is the political rather than the martial or diplomatic struggles that are the more vivid. The Ashdown strategy, framed when Blair became leader, was that the Liberal Democrats, with or without Ashdown himself, would have joined Blair's government, provided there was some commitment to electoral reform. But what was clear, even then, is that whether Blair was or was not sincere in seeming to agree to this deal, the other two in Labour's Big Three of 1997 formed a formidable defensive line. A minimal reconnaissance of the New Labour landscape ought to have told Ashdown that John Prescott and Gordon Brown would oppose the "airy fairy" idea – as Prescott told Ashdown to his face when the pair eventually got round to meeting, in February 1998.

Yet Ashdown still believed he was on the verge of government and persisted in this delusion long into 1999, after the Jenkins Commission on electoral reform came and went and Blair continued to prevaricate. Finally Ashdown lost patience and resigned. "The Project", as it was known, was dead. It may yet be revived, if we see a hung parliament after the next election, in which case Ashdown himself may see yet more active service. There seems plenty of fight in him yet.

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific