Paddy Ashdown and Tricia Howard
Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 1988 to 1999, Paddy Ashdown earned the nickname Paddy Pantsdown after revelations of his five-month affair with his secretary, Tricia Howard. Just before the News of the World got hold of the story in 1992, Ashdown, having initially considered an injunction to halt publication, decided instead ‘to grab the initiative and break it [himself]‘. On 6 February that year, he took the rare move of holding a hastily convened press conference at Westminster, in which he openly admitted the affair. He later posed for photo of he and his wife in front of their family home.
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. The revelation of his affair sparked the front page headline “It’s Paddy Pantsdown” from The Sun newspaper on 6 February 1992.
|The Right Honourable
The Lord Ashdown
GCMG KBE PC
27 May 2002 – 30 May 2006
|Preceded by||Wolfgang Petritsch|
|Succeeded by||Christian Schwarz-Schilling|
16 July 1988 – 11 August 1999
|Preceded by||David Steel (Liberal Party)
Robert Maclennan (SDP)
|Succeeded by||Charles Kennedy|
Member of Parliament
9 June 1983 – 7 June 2001
|Preceded by||John Peyton|
|Succeeded by||David Laws|
|Born||27 February 1941 (age 70)
New Delhi, British India
|Birth name||Jeremy John Durham Ashdown|
|Political party||(1) Liberal Party
(2) Liberal Democrats
|Spouse(s)||Jane Courtenay (m. 1962-present)|
|Children||Son and daughter|
|Years of service||1959–1972|
|Unit||Special Boat Service|
After service as a Royal Marine and as an intelligence officer for the UK security services, Ashdown was a Member of Parliament (MP) forYeovil 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 againstYugoslavia 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.
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 mother was a QA nurse. Ashdown’s father, John, was an Indian Army officer in the 14th Punjab Regiment and the Indian Army Service Corps. 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 ofthe War had risen to the rank of colonel.
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 Irish accent earned him the nickname “Paddy”.
After his father’s business collapsed, Ashdown 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 Gulfbefore 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.
Intelligence Officer and diplomat
Ashdown left the Marines to join the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6. As cover, he worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Officeas first secretary to the United Kingdom mission to the United Nations in Geneva. At the UN Ashdown was responsible for relations with several UN organisations, and was also involved in the negotiation of several international treaties, and some aspects of the Helsinki Conference.
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. Ashdown decided to enter politics due to living during the era of two general elections in one year and the Three-Day Week. He said that “most of my friends thought it was utterly bonkers” to leave the dipomatic service, but that he had “a sense of purpose”.
In 1976 Ashdown was selected as the Liberal Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate in his wife’s home constituency of Yeovil in Somerset, 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 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. 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.
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. The Conservative majority of 11,382 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. 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 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 theRoyal 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 withTony 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 being led by Blair’s predecessor John Smith, who died suddenly in May 1994.
After Labour’s 1997 landslide 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.
Resignation 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. Ashdown was honoured in 2001 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 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. 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 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.
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. 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 Delić, 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. However he later decided against taking the role, after Afghanistan said it preferred General Sir John McColl and did not want Paddy Ashdown. 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.”
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. The revelation of his affair sparked the front page headline “It’s Paddy Pantsdown” from The Sun newspaper on 6 February 1992.
- Knight Commander 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[37