As a monitor of public standards, Lord Holme knew he had to go

Lord Holme of Cheltenham's decision to "fall on his sword" because of disclosures about an extramarital affair follows a long and distinguished career in public life.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham's decision to "fall on his sword" because of disclosures about an extramarital affair follows a long and distinguished career in public life.

A leading member of the Liberal Democrat establishment, the peer is the closest the party has to a Peter Mandelson-type figure.

A strategic fixer, often working behind the scenes, he only became widely known to the public when he took over as chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Commission. But Westminster insiders have long realised that the thoughtful, suave operator has played an important part in the Liberal Democrats' fortunes.

His most crucial role came as confidant to Paddy Ashdown when he helped to set up meetings with Tony Blair, driving forward secret plans for a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition. Mr Ashdown, who was then Liberal Democrat leader, heavily relied on him for advice and support, hoping to take advantage of the peer's good relations with Mr Mandelson.

A well-placed party insider said: "Richard Holme was pivotal in setting up the meetings with Mr Blair and keeping the idea of a coalition going. He dealt with people on the highest level such as Derry Irvine [the Lord Chancellor] and Peter Mandelson. There is a very small number of Liberal Democrats who have that sort of access."

Yet the highlight of his 36 years in the Liberal Democrats was his campaigning role at the last general election, which led to a record number of 46 seats.

Born Richard Gordon Holme, he has been married for 42 years and has four grown-up children. His wife, Kay, as so many loyal political wives before, pledged yesterday to stand by her man.

Lord Holme's involvement with the party dates back to 1964 when he became the Liberal candidate for the East Grinstead by-election.

He went on to become campaign chairman for the party, vice-chairman of the Liberal Party executive, the party's President and he was Northern Ireland spokesman. He was made the Baron Holme of Cheltenham in 1990.

Although he is said to be close to Charles Kennedy, his interests recently focused on his role as a broadcasting watchdog, after he took over from Lady Howe of Aberavon last year. He was appointed for a four-year term and was personally approached to take up the post by Chris Smith, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary. At the time, he vowed to "persuade channels and programme makers that there is a market for high-quality programmes".

Lord Holme had little choice but to resign over the revelations of his sex life. In July this year, he told the Royal Television Society's dinner that broadcasters should display "a greater sense of responsibility" about sexual behaviour and bad language.

He said yesterday: "I have concluded that to attempt to continue in my role as an arbiter of standards in the face of this story would be wrong. I do not seek to excuse myself but, as I duly fall on my sword, I leave it to others to judge what effect this sort of journalism, based on spying, telephone interception and misappropri-ated private correspondence for commercial gain, has on the quality of our public life."