Paddy: The Saviour of British Liberalism


The word 'hero' can be overused. It's meaning to describe someone who possesses courage, has many outstanding achievements and noble qualities seems to have got lost. But if there is one word to describe Paddy Ashdown, for me, it would be a hero. 

Born in 1941, Paddy joined the Royal Marines in 1959 and served for almost thirteen years gaining the role of Captain and also working as an intelligence officer. 

Paddy left the diplomatic service to pursue a career in politics having defected to the Liberals from Labour in 1975. He was selected for the Yeovil seat in 1976, where his passion and hard work in the local community pushed the Liberal Party from third place to win the seat in 1983. 

When the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party merged in 1988, the party was in dire straits. Reminiscing about becoming leader in 1989, Paddy would often talk about how the Liberal Democrat vote was often represented by just an asterisk - the margin of error. The baptism of fire meant the Liberal force in Britain would either have to rise or cease to be a political relevance.

One of Paddy's most abiding beliefs was the realignment of progressive politics in Britain. One of the reasons he had left the Labour Party was over its perpetual internal conflicts, undermining the cause for social justice. Paddy worked very closely with Tony Blair whilst in opposition - with the talk of a Progressive Coalition at the heart of it. He always believed in working above party-politics, and that the only way real change could happen was by people working together in common cause. In 2016, after the great rift of the EU referendum, Paddy helped to launch 'More United' a political startup aimed at raising money for progressive and liberal candidates from across the political spectrum. At the 2017 general election, they helped over 80 candidates - Lib Dems, Labour, Green and even a Conservative. 

Paddy made a name for himself as the fighter of causes that others felt either too complicated or controversial. He led the campaign for Hong Kong citizens to be allowed to keep their British passports and more recently that Afghan interpreters be allowed to resettle in the UK. 

His vision of Britain was one which looked out openly to the rest of the world. He passionately led calls for Britain to intervene in the Human tragedy in Yugoslavia. He has long since been an ambassador for Remembering Srebrenica and even became the UN High Representative for Bosnia & Herzegovina. 

It would not be an understatement to say that Paddy saved the Liberal tradition in this country. Without his hard work, clarity of thoughts and sense of mission there may not be a Liberal party in the UK - certainly not one which since its inception won a quarter of the votes at general elections and formed a government. 

It would not be an understatement to say that Paddy saved this country - it's reputation and purpose - many times. Whilst others question Britain's role in the world, Paddy got it right time and time again. Where there are injustices and human tragedy, where there is tyranny and subjugation of people, we have a moral duty to stand with the people against dictators. We have a moral duty to defend human rights across the world. 

Every day, I am reminded of Paddy's influence on me. He is what all Liberals and progressive should aspire to. A great man without who's sense of moral duty, pragmatic tenacity and optimistic vision of a fairer society means that the country we live in may have been quite different without him. 

We are going to miss you, Paddy. Thank you - for everything. 


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