Ashdown resigns: Village salutes its local hero

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IN THE Lord Nelson, an imposing pub 100 yards from Paddy Ashdown's stone-built home, the conversation stopped for News at Ten last night.

It was a familiar face that filled the screen: Mr Ashdown is a popular and high-profile member of the community and the people of Norton sub Hamdon, a picturesque village in a south Somerset valley, are used to seeing their MP on the television.

Locals said they were shocked by his decision to stand down as leader of the Liberal Democrats but one sensed they were not overly distressed. To them Mr Ashdown is primarily the constituency MP and they would have been far more bothered had he resigned as the member for Yeovil.

"I am not particularly into Liberal politics, but I will say you will never find a harder- working local MP," said Andrew Wiggins, 41, a careers worker.

"In the summer there is barely a fete around here that he doesn't agree to open. It's amazing really when you think that he is able to find the time to do all that.

"That is the way he is. You will see him and his wife walking through the village and they will always say hello. He is not an arrogant man. You don't feel intimidated by him."

Mark Bloom, landlord of the Lord Nelson, where Mr Ashdown pays a weekly visit to drink Worthington Best bitter and munch his way through a couple of packets of crisps, said he had suspected the MP would stand down as leader soon.

"He will concentrate on being a local man," he said. "He does a lot for the local area. I am surprised because he is in such a position of influence.

"Sometimes when he does discuss politics in here, he will talk about how he was speaking to Tony Blair yesterday. It seems funny that he should be talking to the most powerful man in Britain one day and then come in here the next.

"But he comes in just like anybody else - and I think he enjoys the anonymity."

Judith Grainger, 44, a midwife who has lived in the village for three years said: "He is very proactive. He's done a lot for the community and for the village."

Not everyone was as enthusiastic about their local MP. Yeovil, like many other rural towns, has a host of social problems including unemployment and drug abuse.

One taxi driver said: "Mr Ashdown is a popular man but I wonder what he has really done. What is there around here for the young people? He said he would be sorting out a leisure centre but there is no news on that yet."