Paddy Ashdown speaks of his life on the dole

Paul Routledge
Sunday 15 March 1998 00:02
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PADDY ASHDOWN will today tell of the worst moment of his life - the day when he had to sack himself and 30 people who worked under him, writes Paul Routledge.

In a speech to a party conference, the Liberal Democrat leader will admit that he has been unemployed twice, and his personal experience has burned deep into his political psyche.

Mr Ashdown will disclose that he was unemployed for six months when he arrived in Yeovil after leaving the Foreign Office in 1976, and again six years later when the first recession under Margaret Thatcher hit manufacturing industry.

At the time, he was working as a personnel boss in Tescan, a subsidiary of Moorlands, a manufacturer of sheepskin coats. The parent firm collapsed, and his company closed down.

"As a manager, I had on one terrible and unforgettable day, to shut down my division of the the firm ... and make all those I worked with and myself redundant. It was the most soul-destroying day of my life."

In a passionate plea for more government investment in jobs, the Lib- Dem leader will tell delegates to his party's spring conference in Southport that Labour promised "'education, education, education' - but we have had cuts, cuts, cuts".

Calling for greater spending on education and training, Mr Ashdown insists: "This is the investment that Britain has to make; investment that ministers refuse to make, despite all their promises. And if they do not make that investment in the Budget on Tuesday, we will harry them every day of this parliament until they do."

Gordon Brown's welfare to work programme is a good idea, he argues. "Unlike most politicians, I was actually on one of those schemes."

Introducing the Lib-Dems' "alternative budget" yesterday, Treasury spokesman Malcolm Bruce accused Gordon Brown of building up a "massive pounds 200bn war chest of funds" in order to deliver Labour pledges on health, education and crime. The Chancellor should begin spending that money on public services before the general election, he argued, instead of sticking to Tory expenditure plans.

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