Lib Dem Conference: Ashdown urges party to retain ties with Labour
Wednesday 22 September 1999
The former leader's parting shot was intended to ensure the Liberal Democrats stay on the course he plotted for closer links with the Blair government, resisting the calls by some activists this week for a break with Labour.
Although Mr Kennedy said he supported Mr Ashdown's remarks, it will have sounded alarm bells in his camp that the former leader may be tempted to follow Lady Thatcher's example of "backseat driving".
With his voice breaking at times with emotion, Jane Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader's wife, was moved to tears and left weeping during the standing ovation as Mr Ashdown and Mr Kennedy gave a "thumbs up" show of unity.
Mr Ashdown's former aides were also close to tears when he paid tribute to the party. "You have given me quite simply the pride and purpose of my life. To have had the privilege to lead you has been the greatest thing I have ever done or will ever do," he said.
Mr Ashdown, who was only denied a seat in the Blair cabinet by Labour's unexpected 1997 landslide, said it had been a great party to lead, but never easy. "You have been uncompromising at times when I wanted you to bend a little. Uncomfortable at others when I could have done with an easier ride. You have been unbelievably stubborn when I tried to take you in a direction you didn't want to go. And unbelievably curmudgeonly at times when I thought I was delivering success."
Recalling the personal crisis in his leadership when his extra marital affair was exposed, Mr Ashdown added: "You have been recklessly generous in forgiving my faults."
One Ashdown ally said: "He is saying things only Paddy could say to the party."
Mr Ashdown warned the Liberal Democrats against being too "staid and conservative" and to avoid old Labour tendencies to defend the producers against the consumers, parents and patients.
Urging his party to engage in fresh thinking, Mr Ashdown said: "In some areas we are, I fear, running the risk of becoming lazy and complacent in our thinking. If we Liberal Democrats will not think afresh, then we risk falling into the easy trap of leftist oppositional politics. And that would mean making ourselves irrelevant again for a generation."
Mr Ashdown took over from David Steele in 1988 when the Liberals' morale was low after repeated election disappointments. The new leadership is keen to avoid the mistakes highlighted by Mr Ashdown and moves were being made to block Simon Hughes - a leading critic of closer ties with Labour - from winning the deputy leadership. He will be given Alan Beith's portfolio as home affairs spokesman, but efforts are being made to persuade Mr Beith to stay on as deputy leader to keep Mr Hughes out of the post.
- 1 JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
- 2 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 3 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 4 Video shows what happens when lava is poured onto ice
- 5 Cate Blanchett loses temper during interview: 'That's your f**king question?'
Andreas Lubitz: Who is Germanwings co-pilot who 'locked out captain and crashed flight 9525'?
Germanwings crash: The poignant final photograph taken by Iranian journalist on doomed flight after watching Barcelona play Real Madrid
#FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Cate Blanchett loses temper during interview: 'That's your f**king question?'
Jeremy Clarkson calls on trolls to leave producer Oisin Tymon alone: 'None of this is his fault'
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Vote Ukip, says far-right group Britain First
£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...