Paddy Ashdown dead: Former Liberal Democrat leader dies, aged 77

Former Royal Marine, diplomat and MP will be 'remembered as someone who made an immeasurable contribution to furthering the cause of liberalism', party says

Former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown dies aged 77

Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has died aged 77.

Lord Ashdown – who led the party between 1988 and 1999 – revealed last month that he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer.

He passed away on Saturday evening following a short illness, a Liberal Democrat spokesperson said.

The former MP for Yeovil served with the Royal Marines for 13 years. He also worked for the secret service and as a British diplomat before entering politics.

He was elected to parliament in 1983 and served until the 2001 general election, when he stood down. His sharp intelligence, unique experiences and easy manner were all credited with helping him become the newly formed Lib Dem’s first leader in 1988.

Vince Cable, the party’s current leader, said it was a “hugely sad day”.

He said: “Once in parliament, he made a real mark. He was always listened to, in particular on international issues and defence. He took up unpopular causes where he was respected for his convictions.

“He inspired the Liberal Democrats from a polling position he famously described as ‘represented by an asterisk’, to become a formidable campaigning force laying the ground for the strength which later took the party into government.

“In recent years, he has been a powerful voice of real significance to the pro-European cause. He will be sadly missed in all parts of politics and parliament.”

Nick Clegg, another former Lib Dem leader, said Lord Ashdown was “the most heartfelt person I have known”.

He added: “Paddy was the reason I entered politics. He was the reason I became a liberal. And he became a lifelong mentor, friend and guide.”

One-time political opponents have also been quick to pay tribute.

The politician served as de facto leader of Bosnia from 2002 to 2006

Former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major hailed his parliamentary rival “a man of duty, passion, and devotion to the country he loved – right up to the very end”.

He added: “In government, Paddy Ashdown was my opponent. In life, he was a much-valued friend. His loss will be felt deeply by many – and not least by myself.

“Throughout his life, Paddy was a true patriot, whose overriding wish was to serve his country: first, in the Marines, and then in both houses of parliament.

“I can attest to the fact that – even when he knew he was gravely ill – Paddy’s concern for the future of our country continued to dominate his thinking.”

Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair said he admired Lord Ashdown “as a man and as a political visionary and leader”.

Mr Blair said: “He was one of the most talented politicians never to hold high office, but as leader of the Liberal Democrats he nonetheless had a major impact on British political life.

“He was motivated by values of compassion, decency and a profound commitment to make the world a better place. He had courage, personal and political, unafraid to speak his mind yet always open to the views of others. He was one of the least tribal politicians I have ever known.”

Prime minister Theresa May said Lord Ashdown had “served his country with distinction” and added: “He will be sorely missed. My thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Lord Ashdown would be “greatly missed” while home secretary Sajid Javid described him as “one of the most friendly and compassionate people I have ever met in politics”.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown said: “I’m saddened by the loss of one of the towering political figures of our generation who spoke always as a strong European, a committed internationalist and a dedicated constitutional reformer.

“Paddy Ashdown had boundless energy, was prepared to cross party lines and served not just his own country but the international community.”

David Cameron, former Conservative prime minister, also paid tribute to Lord Ashdown as “a thoroughly decent, compassionate, knowledgable and thoughtful human being”.

After stepping down as party leader in 1999, he was knighted and then made a peer as Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon.

He became High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina in May 2002 and was a witness for the prosecution at the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic. Later he was made UN representative for Afghanistan.

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Talking about his illness last month, he told the Somerset Live website: “We must see about the outcome, which as always with things like this, is unpredictable.

“I’ve fought a lot of battles in my life. This time I am lucky enough to have the magnificent help of our local hospital, and my friends and family, and that gives me great confidence.”

In his final tweet, he took aim at Theresa May’s cabinet as the prime minister struggled to win support for her Brexit deal.

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said: “It is with great sadness that we announce that Paddy Ashdown passed away earlier this evening following a short illness.

“He will be desperately missed by everyone at the Liberal Democrats as a dear friend and colleague, and remembered as someone who made an immeasurable contribution to furthering the cause of liberalism.

“Our thoughts are with his family and all of his friends at this difficult time.”

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