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The Right Honourable
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon
Ashdown at the Financial Times Summer Party, June 2011.
High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina

In office
27 May 2002 – 30 May 2006
Preceded by Wolfgang Petritsch
Succeeded by Christian Schwarz-Schilling
Leader of the Liberal Democrats

In office
16 July 1988 – 11 August 1999
Deputy Russell Johnston
Alan Beith
Preceded by David Steel (Liberal Party)
Robert Maclennan (SDP)
Succeeded by Charles Kennedy
Member of Parliament
for Yeovil

In office
9 June 1983 – 7 June 2001
Preceded by John Peyton
Succeeded by David Laws
Personal details
Born Jeremy John Durham Ashdown
24 February 1941(1941-02-24) (age 81)
New Delhi, India
Nationality British
Political party (1) Liberal Party
(2) Liberal Democrats
Spouse(s) Jane Courtenay (1962–present)
Children Son and daughter
Military service
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Marines
Years of service 1959–1972
Unit Special Boat Service
Battles/wars Indonesian Confrontation

Jeremy John Durham Ashdown, Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, GCMG, CH, KBE, PC (born 24 February 1941), usually known as Paddy Ashdown, is a British politician and diplomat. He is the Chair of the Liberal Democrats 2015 General Election Team.[1]

After service as a Royal Marine and as an intelligence officer for the UK security services, Ashdown was a 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 vigorous 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.

Early life

Ashdown is the eldest of seven children, and has four brothers and two sisters.[2] and was born in New Delhi, India,[3] on 24 February 1941[4] to a family of soldiers and colonial administrators who spent their lives in India.[5] His father was a lapsed Catholic, and his mother a Protestant. His mother was a QA nurse. Ashdown's father, John William Richard Durham Ashdown (born 1909), was an Indian Army officer in the 14th Punjab Regiment and the Indian Army Service Corps and in 1944 attained the rank of T/Lt.Col. [3] During the retreat to Dunkirk in May 1940, John Ashdown ignored an order to abandon the Indian troops under his command, instead leading them to the port and on to one of the last ships to leave, without losing a single man. Although court martialled for disobeying orders, he was exonerated, and by the end of the War had risen to the rank of colonel.[6]

Ashdown was largely brought up in Northern Ireland, where his father bought a farm in 1945[3] near Donaghadee.[7] He was educated first at a local primary school, then as a weekly boarder at Garth House Preparatory School in Bangor[7] and from age 11 at Bedford School in England, where his accent earned him the nickname "Paddy".[7]

Royal Marines and Special Boat Section

After his father's business collapsed, Ashdown passed the naval scholarship examination to pay for his school fees,[8] but left before taking A-levels and joined the Royal Marines in 1959,[7] serving until 1972,[3] retiring with the rank of Captain. He served in Borneo during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation and the Persian Gulf[2] before training as a Swimmer Canoeist in 1965, after which he joined the elite Special Boat Section (which became the Special Boat Service in the 1980s) and commanded a Section in the Far East.[3] He then went to Hong Kong in 1967 to undertake a full-time interpreter's course in Chinese,[8] and returned to Britain in 1970 when he was given command of a Commando Company in Belfast.[3]

Intelligence officer and diplomat

Ashdown left the Marines to join the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6).[8][9] As cover, he worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as first secretary to the United Kingdom mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.[10] At the UN, Ashdown was responsible for relations with several UN organisations, involved in the negotiation of several international treaties, and some aspects of the Helsinki Conference.[11]

Political career

While in the Marines, Ashdown had been a supporter of the Labour Party, but joined the Liberal Party in 1975. He had a comfortable life in Switzerland, where he lived with his wife Jane and their two children Simon and Katherine in a large house on the shores of Lake Geneva, enjoying plenty of time for sailing, skiing and climbing.[10] Ashdown decided to enter politics due to living during the era of two general elections in one year and the Three-Day Week.[8] He said that "most of my friends thought it was utterly bonkers" to leave the diplomatic service, but that he had "a sense of purpose".[12]

In 1976 Ashdown was selected as the Liberal Party's prospective parliamentary candidate in his wife's home constituency of Yeovil in Somerset,[10] and took a job with Normalair Garrett, then part of the Yeovil-based Westland Group. Yeovil's Liberal candidate had been placed second in February 1974[13] and third in the October 1974 general election,[14] and Ashdown's objective was to "squeeze" the local Labour vote to enable him to defeat the Conservatives,[10] who had held the seat since its creation in 1918.[15] 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.[5][11]

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.[16] The Conservative majority of 11,382[16] was still large enough to be regarded as a safe seat; when the sitting MP John Peyton stood down at the 1983 general election to be made a life peer, however, Ashdown had gained momentum after his years of local campaigning.[17] The Labour vote fell to only 5.5% and Ashdown won the seat with a majority of over 3,000,[18] a swing from the Conservatives of 11.9% against a national swing of 4% to the Conservatives.

In Parliament

Ashdown had long been on his party's social democratic wing, supporting the 1977 Lib-Lab pact,[10] 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."[19]

Shortly after entering the House of Commons, he was appointed SDP–Liberal Alliance spokesman on Trade and Industry and then on Education.[11] 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.[10]

Leader of Liberal Democrats

Paddy Ashdown in Chippenham during the 1992 General Election campaign

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.[20]

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, though they did take a smaller share of the vote than they had done at the 1992 election.[21]

Between 1993 and 1997, 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. This was despite Labour's opinion poll showings from late 1992 onwards virtually all suggesting that they would gain a majority at the next election, particularly in the first year or so of Blair's leadership following his appointment in the summer of 1994. The discussions began in early 1993, while the party was still being led by Blair's predecessor John Smith, who died suddenly in May 1994. After Blair was elected as Labour leader that summer, the talks continued.[22]

However, there was never any need for a coalition, as the 1997 general election ended in a landslide victory for Labour. The election also saw a breakthrough for the Liberal Democrats; despite receiving fewer votes than in 1992, they increased their representation from 18 to 46. A "Joint Cabinet Committee" (JCC) including senior Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians was then 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.[23]

Resignation and retirement

Ashdown announced his intention to resign as leader of the Liberal Democrats on 20 January 1999,[24] departing on 9 August that year after 11 years in the role, and was succeeded by Charles Kennedy.[25] He was knighted (KBE) in 2000 and became a life peer as Baron Ashdown of Norton Sub Hamdon 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. Ashdown was honoured in 2001 with a Doctor of Letters degree by Bournemouth University and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Bath.

Offer of Cabinet post

In June 2007, the BBC reported that Ashdown had been offered, and rejected, the post of Northern Ireland Secretary by incoming Labour Party Prime Minister Gordon Brown.[26] 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

Paddy Ashdown with Colin Powell in 2004

After leaving British politics, he took up the post of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina on 27 May 2002,[27] reflecting his long-time advocacy of international intervention in that region. He succeeded Wolfgang Petritsch in the position created under the Dayton Agreement. Paddy Ashdown had many successes during his time as High Representative, including strengthening the central state institutions, bringing in statewide legal bodies such as State Investigation and Protection Agency and brining the two ethnic armies under a central civilian command. He is sometimes denigrated as "the Viceroy of Bosnia" by critics of his work as High Representative.[28][29]

Witness for the prosecution at the trial of Slobodan Milošević

On 14 March 2002, Ashdown testified as a witness for the prosecution at the trial of Slobodan Milošević at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.[30] He said that he was on the Kosovo-Albania border near Junik in June 1998.[30] From this location, through his binoculars, Ashdown claimed to have seen Serbian forces shelling several villages.[30]

In July 2005 a defence witness, General Božidar Delić, 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.[31]

After the Delić claims, Ashdown supplied the Tribunal with grid coordinates and a cross section of the ground indicating that he could indeed see the locations concerned.[32] These coordinates indicated he was on the Kosovo-Albania border, which was a sealed border at the time.[32] The prosecution also used some new maps indicating Ashdown's location, but their accuracy was challenged by Delić, as the location of a village was different from other maps of the area.[32]

UN representative for Afghanistan

He was also mentioned as a possible candidate to take charge of the allied effort in Afghanistan.[33][34] 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.[35] However he later decided against taking the role, after Afghanistan said it preferred General Sir John McColl and did not want Paddy Ashdown.[36] On 7 March 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."[37]

Other positions

Paddy Ashdown is a member of the Governing Council of Interpeace, an international peacebuilding organisation.[38] He also serves as a president of Chatham House.[39]

Personal life

Ashdown married Jane Courtenay in 1962. The couple have a son, Simon, and daughter, 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.[10][40] The revelation of his affair sparked the front page headline "It's Paddy Pantsdown" from The Sun newspaper on 6 February 1992.[41]

Ashdown supports Yeovil Town F.C. and attends some matches.[42]



  • Paddy Ashdown (1941–1983)
  • 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, PC (2001–2006)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, GCMG, KBE, PC (2006–present)


  1. UK Politics BBC
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Five facts about Paddy Ashdown". Reuters. 21 June 2007. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "Curriculum Vitae: Paddy Ashdown". Office of the High Representative (OHR) and EU Special Representative (EUSR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 27 May 2002. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  4. Dennis Kavanagh (1998). "Ashdown, Paddy". A Dictionary of Political Biography. Oxford University Press. p. 20. Retrieved 31 August 2013.  – via Questia (subscription required)
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Action man bows out". BBC News. 9 August 1999. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  6. Patrick Wintour, chief political correspondent (8 November 2000). "Ashdown tells how father stood by Indian troops". London. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Jonathan Sale (18 October 2001). "An education in the life of Lord Ashdown: 'I was bullied early on, but then I learnt to fight'". The Independent. London. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Hamilton, Fiona (12 April 2009). "Lover, commando, spy – the making of Paddy Ashdown". London. Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  9. Paul Waugh (4 May 2010). "Paddy Ashdown. Secret Agent". Evening Standard. Retrieved 5 May 2010. "Paddy was so upset that he referred to his own spying days (in Geneva in the 1970s). He said of Dearlove: "I actually served in the Secret Intelligence Service with him" 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 Andrew Roth (19 March 2001). "Sir Paddy Ashdown". The Guardian. London.,,459350,00.html. Retrieved 22 November 2007. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "Who's Who: Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE". Liberal Democrats website. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  12. John-Paul Flintoff (24 October 2003). "Bridge builder". Financial Times website. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  13. "UK General Election results February 1974: Yeovil". Richard Kimber's political science resources. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  14. "UK General Election results October 1974: Yeovil". Richard Kimber's political science resources. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  15. Craig, F. W. S. (1983) [1969]. British parliamentary election results 1918–1949 (3rd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. ISBN 0-900178-06-X. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 "UK General Election results May 1979: Yeovil". Richard Kimber's political science resources. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  17. Byron Criddle and Robert Waller (2002). Almanac of British Politics. Routledge. p. 841. ISBN 0-415-26833-8. 
  18. "UK General Election results June 1983: Yeovil". Richard Kimber's political science resources. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  19. Julian Lewis (28 November 1996). "Nuclear record hard to defend". Western Gazette. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  20. "Privy Councillors". Leigh Rayment's Privy Councillors Pages. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  21. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". BBC News. 
  22. [1]
  23. Grice, Andrew; Marie Woolf (22 September 2003). "Charles Kennedy: 'There's a change in the way politics is conducted. Outside Westminster, nobody talks of left and right'". London. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  24. "Ashdown to quit as leader". BBC News. 20 January 1999. 
  25. "Kennedy to lead Lib Dems". BBC News. 9 August 1999. 
  26. "Brown offered Ashdown Cabinet job". BBC News online. 21 June 2007. Retrieved 22 November 2007. 
  27. Alex Todorovic (27 May 2002). "Ashdown takes over in Bosnia". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  28. Mark Steyn (7 July 2002). "Message from America: we're independent". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 23 November 2007. 
  29. Michael White (22 June 2007). "Team Gordon: Michael White suggests his dream team for a Brown cabinet". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 November 2007. "But even allowing for all that, it is hard to imagine such an energetic 66-year-old, a former viceroy of Bosnia, too, confining himself to the Northern Ireland brief, especially now that Messrs Paisley, Adams and co have taken an oath not to remember the past. With luck they won't leave much for Posh Paddy to do there." 
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 "Milošević trial transcript 14 March 2002 Page 2331 Line 24". United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 5 March 2007. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  31. United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: Milošević trial transcript 7 July 2005 Page 42036 Line 7 & 12 July 2005 Page 42205 Line 1
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 "Milošević trial transcript 28 September 2005 Page 44684 Line 1". United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 5 March 2007. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  33. Paul Reynolds (12 December 2007). "Dismantling the Taleban is the aim". BBC News. Retrieved 23 November 2007. "One "big idea being pressed by the British government is for the appointment of a senior international figure to be the UN representative for Afghanistan. The name of Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, who ran Bosnia-Herzegovina after the civil war, has been mentioned." 
  34. Michael Abramowitz and Peter Baker (17 December 2007). "Bush Faces Pressure to Shift War Priorities: As Iraq Calms, Focus Turns to Afghanistan". Washington Post. Retrieved 23 November 2007. "Administration officials said the White House is considering a range of steps to stem the erosion, including the appointment of a leading international political figure to try to better coordinate efforts in Afghanistan. European newspapers have focused on Paddy Ashdown, a British politician and envoy, but a former senior military officer said his appointment would be considered controversial and seems unlikely." 
  35. Michael Abramowitz and Peter Baker (16 January 2008). "Ashdown accepts job as U.N. Afghan envoy". Reuters. Retrieved 16 January 2008. "Paddy Ashdown has agreed to become the United Nations' envoy to Afghanistan, a source close to negotiations on the post said on Wednesday. "Yes, he has accepted the job," the source said of an agreement between Ashdown, 66, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon." 
  36. "Ashdown pulls out of Afghan role". BBC News. 27 January 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  37. Leithead, Alastair (28 March 2008). "UN's new Afghan envoy begins work". BBC News. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  38. Interpeace "Governing Council" Retrieved on 7 February 2012
  39. Patrons, Presidents, Council and Directors – Chatham House Retrieved on 29 September 2012
  40. Lucy Ward (21 January 1999). "End of the Ashdown era". The Guardian. London.,9061,446036,00.html. Retrieved 22 November 2007. 
  41. [2]
  42. "Famous Yeovil Town Fans — yeovil famous dans and supporters". Retrieved 14 July 2010. 
  43. "No. 57855". 31 December 2005. 


External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Peyton
Member of Parliament for Yeovil
Succeeded by
David Laws
Party political offices
Preceded by
David Steel
and Robert Maclennan
Leader of the British
Liberal Democrats

Succeeded by
Charles Kennedy
Political offices
Preceded by
Wolfgang Petritsch
High Representative for
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Succeeded by
Christian Schwarz-Schilling

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