- Category : Political
- Type : PE
- Profile : 3/6 - Martyr / Role Model
- Definition : Triple Split
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Planning 1
Jeremy John Durham Ashdown, Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, GCMG, KBE, (born 27 February 1941), commonly known as Paddy Ashdown, is a British politician and international diplomat.
Ashdown was Member of Parliament (MP) for Yeovil from 1983 to 2001, and leader of the Liberal Democrats from 1988 until August 1999; later he was the international High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 27 May 2002 to 30 May 2006, following his vigourous lobbying for military action against Yugoslavia in the 1990s. A gifted polyglot, Ashdown is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and other languages. He was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (GCMG) in the New Year Honours 2006. In his 2009 autobiography, he revealed that he has worked as a spy for British intelligence.
Ashdown is the eldest of seven children and was born in New Delhi in British India, to a family of soldiers and colonial administrators who spent their lives in India. His father was a lapsed Catholic, and his mother a Protestant. His father was a Captain in the Indian Army, 14th Punjab Regiment & RIASC and his mother was a QA nurse. He is a great great grandson of Daniel O'Connell, the Irish statesman and campaigner for Home Rule.
Ashdown was largely brought up in Northern Ireland, where his father bought a farm in 1945 near Donaghadee. He was educated first at a local primary school, then as a weekly boarder at Garth House Preparatory School in Bangor and from age 11 at Bedford School in England, where his Northern Irish accent earned him the nickname "Paddy". At Bedford he "fagged" for “Ram” Seegar, who, intending on entering the Royal Marines, had Ashdown join him in doing basic RM physical training with him over normal fag duties, on which he commented "I was bullied early on, but then I learnt to fight". To enable his family to continue his education, it was proposed he undertake the Royal Navy scholarship exam, for which he needed additional maths tuition, and resultantly lost his virginity to his female tutor.
After his father's business collapsed, he passed the naval scholarship to pay for his school fees, but left before taking A-levels and joined the Royal Marines in 1959, serving until 1972. He served in Borneo during the Indonesian Confrontation and the Persian Gulf before Special Forces training in 1965, after which he joined the elite Special Boat Service and commanded a Special Boat Section in the Far East. He then went to Hong Kong in 1967 to undertake a full-time interpreter's course in Chinese, and returned to Britain in 1970 when he was given command of a Commando Company in Belfast.
After leaving the Marines, Ashdown worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as first secretary to the United Kingdom mission to the United Nations in Geneva. He was responsible for the UK's relations with several United Nations organisations and was also involved in the negotiation of several international treaties, and in some aspects of the European Security Conference (the Helsinki Conference).
It has been speculated that this "cushy but dull" job was a cover for a role with MI6, but until publication of his autobiography in 2009, Ashdown refused to comment, and still has not confirmed the organisation he worked for.
Whilst in the Marines, Ashdown had been a supporter of the Labour Party, but joined the Liberal Party in 1975, and decided to leave his diplomatic career to enter Liberal politics in his wife's home town of Yeovil in Somerset. In 1976 he was selected as the Liberal Party's prospective parliamentary candidate for the Yeovil constituency, and took a job with Normalair Garrett, then part of the Yeovil-based Westland Group. He subsequently worked for Tescan, and was unemployed for a time after that firm's closure in 1981, before becoming a youth worker with Dorset County Council's Youth Service, working on initiatives to help the young unemployed.
Ashdown had a comfortable life in Switzerland, where he lived with his wife Jane, and Jill and Monica their two children in a large house on the shores of Lake Geneva, enjoying plenty of time for sailing, skiing and climbing. When he left the diplomatic service, he said that "most of my friends thought it was utterly bonkers", but that he had "a sense of purpose".
Yeovil's Liberal candidate had been placed second in February 1974 and third in the October 1974 general election, and Ashdown's objective was to "squeeze" the local Labour vote to enable him to defeat the Conservatives, who had held the seat since its creation in 1918.
Member of Parliament
In the 1979 general election which returned the Conservatives to power, Ashdown regained second place, establishing a clear lead of 9% over the Labour candidate. However, the Conservative majority of 11,382 was still large enough to be regarded as a safe seat. However the sitting MP John Peyton stood down at the 1983 general election to be made a life peer, and Ashdown had gained momentum after his years of local campaigning. The Labour vote fell to only 5.5% and Ashdown won the seat with a majority of over 3,000, a swing from the Conservatives of 11.9% against a national swing of 4% to the Conservatives.
Ashdown had long been on on his party's social democratic wing, supporting the 1977 Lib-Lab pact, and the SDP-Liberal Alliance. In the early 1980s he was a prominent campaigner against the deployment in Europe of American nuclear-armed cruise missiles, describing them at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally in Hyde Park in 1983 as "the front end of the whole anti-nuclear struggle. It is the weapon we HAVE to stop."
Shortly after entering the House of Commons, he was appointed SDP-Liberal Alliance spokesman on Trade and Industry and then on Education. He opposed the privatisation of the Royal Ordnance Factories in 1984, in 1986 he criticised the Thatcher government for allowing the United States to bomb Libya from UK bases, and in 1987 he campaigned against the loss of trade union rights by workers at GCHQ.
Leader of Liberal Democrats
When the Liberal Party merged in 1988 with the Social Democrats to form the Social and Liberal Democrats (the name was later shortened to "Liberal Democrats"), he was elected as the new party's leader and made a Privy Councillor in January 1989.
Ashdown led the Liberal Democrats into two general elections, in 1992 and 1997. The LibDems recorded a net loss of two seats in 1992, when the party was still recovering from the after-effects of the 1988 merger. However at the 1997 election, the Liberal Democrats won 46 seats, their best performance since the 1920s.
As leader he was a notable proponent of co-operation between the Liberal Democrats and "New Labour", and had regular secret meetings with Tony Blair to discuss the possibility of a coalition government. After Labour's 1997 victory a "Joint Cabinet Committee" (JCC) including senior Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians was created to discuss the implementation of the two parties' shared priorities for constitutional reform; its remit was later expanded to include other issues on which Blair and Ashdown saw scope for co-operation between the two parties. Ashdown's successor as Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, deliberately allowed the JCC to slip into abeyance until it effectively stopped meeting, although it is not clear if it was ever formally dissolved. Blair and Ashdown also agreed to create the Jenkins Commission to conduct a public inquiry into the case for electoral reform. Chaired by Liberal Democrat peer Roy Jenkins, the commission recommended replacing the first-past-the-post electoral system with a system of proportional representation for use in General Elections, in line with a key demand of Ashdown and his party. However, Blair remained unconvinced of the case for electoral reform, and the commission's recommendations have never been passed into law. The plan to bring Liberal Democrats into the government continued, according to Ashdown's published diaries, but foundered on opposition from senior Labour ministers.
Resigned and retirement
Ashdown resigned the leadership in 1999 and was succeeded by Charles Kennedy. He was knighted (KBE) in 2000 and became a life peer as Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, of Norton Sub Hamdon in the County of Somerset in the House of Lords after retiring from the Commons in 2001. In the 2001 election, the Yeovil seat was retained for the Liberal Democrats by David Laws. In 2001 he was honoured with a Doctor of Letters degree by Bournemouth University.
Offer of Cabinet post
In June 2007, the BBC reported that Ashdown had been offered, and rejected, the Cabinet post of Northern Ireland Secretary by incoming Labour Party Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell had already ruled out the idea that members of his party would take seats in a Brown cabinet, but, according to the reports, Brown still proceeded to approach Ashdown with the offer.
High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina
After leaving British politics, he took up the post of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina on 27 May 2002, reflecting his long-time advocacy of international intervention in that region. He succeeded Wolfgang Petritsch in the position created under the Dayton Agreement. He is sometimes denigrated as "the Viceroy of Bosnia" by critics of his work as High Representative.
Witness for the prosecution at the trial of Slobodan Miloševi?
On 14 March 2002, Ashdown testified as a witness for the prosecution at the trial of Slobodan Miloševi? at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He said that he was on the Kosovo-Albania border near Junik in June, 1998. From this location, through his binoculars, Ashdown claimed to have seen Serbian forces shelling several villages.
In July 2005 a defence witness, General Bozidar Deli?, claimed to demonstrate with a topographical map of the area that Ashdown could not have been able to see the areas that he claimed to be able to see as hills, mountains and thick woods obstructed his view.
After the Delic claims, Ashdown supplied the Tribunal with grid coordinates and a cross section of the ground indicating that he could indeed see the locations concerned. These coordinates indicated he was on the Kosovo/ Albania border, which was a sealed border at the time. The prosecution also used some new maps indicating Ashdown's location, but their accuracy was challenged by Deli?, as the location of a village was different from other maps of the area.
UN representative for Afghanistan
He was also mentioned as a possible candidate to take charge of the allied effort in Afghanistan. An unnamed source is quoted in a 16 January Reuters report indicating that Ashdown, when approached by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, accepted the post. He has now withdrawn his interest in taking the role, after Afghanistan said it preferred General Sir John McColl. On March 7 2008 Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide was appointed as the UN representative for Afghanistan, stating "I'm not Paddy Ashdown, but don't under-estimate me."
Ashdown married Jane Courtenay in 1962. The couple have two children, Simon and Katharine, along with three grandchildren. In 1992 following the press becoming aware of a stolen document relating to a divorce case, he disclosed a five-month affair with his secretary, Patricia Howard, five years earlier. He and his marriage weathered the political and tabloid storm, with his wife of 30 years forgiving him, but headlines in the press were merciless – The Sun famously dubbed him "Paddy Pantsdown".
Knight of the Order of the British Empire, 2000
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George, New Year Honours List, 2006
Mr Paddy Ashdown (1941-1983)
Mr Paddy Ashdown MP (1983-1989)
The Rt. Hon. Paddy Ashdown MP (1989-2000)
The Rt. Hon. Sir Paddy Ashdown KBE MP (2000-2001)
The Rt. Hon. The Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon KBE (2001-2006)
The Rt. Hon. The Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE (2006-)
The Ashdown Diaries vol 1. 1988 – 1997, ISBN 0-14-029775-8
The Ashdown Diaries vol 2. 1997 – 1999, ISBN 0-14-029776-6
Swords And Ploughshares: Building Peace in the 21st Century ISBN 0297853031
A Fortunate Life: The Autobiography of Paddy Ashdown ISBN 9781845134198