Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has died at the age of 77 after a short illness.
The politician and former Royal Marine, who led the party for 11 years from 1988 to 1999, passed away on Saturday evening, a party spokesman said.
He revealed last month that he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer.
Tributes have poured in from across the political spectrum, including former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major, on what current party leader Sir Vince Cable called a ‘hugely sad day’.
Tributes have poured in for former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, pictured earlier this year at the Henley Literary Festial, who has died at the age of 77 after a short illness
Paying tribute, Sir Vince Cable said today: ‘He was famous for his politics, but his talents extended well beyond that arena.
‘He was an accomplished author, and had spent many years serving the country before he got near the House of Commons.
‘Few people know how hard he fought to get into politics following his service in the marines and diplomatic service. He exercised every ounce of his considerable personal stamina to win the Yeovil seat.
‘He was a personal example to me and to many other candidates.’
Former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major hailed his former opponent as ‘a man of duty, passion, and devotion to the country he loved – right up to the very end’.
He said Lady Ashdown and the rest of his family could be proud of his achievements, adding: ‘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.
‘I was not surprised. For Paddy, his country always came before personal or political advantage.’
Paddy Ashdown speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in 2013. The former soldier became party leader in 1988 and resigned in 1999
Ashdown (centre) with the then Conservative and Labour leaders, John Major and Tony Blair, who have both paid tribute to the ex-Lib Dem leader after he died at the age of 77 today
Ashdown, left, joins Conservative prime minister David Cameron (centre) and former Labour leader Neil Kinnock (right) in a campaign effort for Remain during the 2016 referendum
Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair said he admired the former Lib Dem leader ‘as a man and as a political visionary and leader’.
Describing him as ‘excellent company, always fun to be around’, 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.
‘He came into politics to do good and by and large did it, whether in leading his party, in his work in the Balkans or his wide range of British and international roles.’
Theresa May joined the tributes, saying: It is with great sadness that I have learned of the passing of Lord Ashdown.
‘Paddy Ashdown served his country with distinction from his career in the Royal Marines and intelligence services, as Member of Parliament for Yeovil, leader of the Liberal Democrats and later as High Representative of the International Community and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
‘He dedicated his life to public service and he will be sorely missed. My thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends at this difficult time.’
Blair’s successor as PM 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, left, pictured here with members of 42 Commando, Royal Marines on Mutla Ridge, Kuwait, was keen during his political career to highlight his Action Man image
Ashdown at a press conference in 1996. A year later he led the party to 46 seats at the general election, the most a third party had won since 1929
‘Paddy Ashdown had boundless energy, was prepared to cross party lines and served not just his own country but the international community, with great distinction, as a representative of the United Nations. My thoughts are with his family.’
Ashdown served in the Special Boat Service during his time in the forces, while his service also led him to patrols on the streets of Belfast during the Troubles.
Upon entering politics he became MP for Yeovil at the 1983 general election, a position he held until 2001.
In 1988 he became the first permanent Liberal Democrat leader after the party was formed as a merger of the Liberal Party and Social Democrats, following a disappointing 1987 election.
He hit the headlines four years into his leadership when, in 1992, he revealed he had had a five-month affair with his secretary, which led the press to nickname him ‘Paddy Pantsdown’. His marriage to wife Jane survived the scandal.
In 1997 he led the Lib Dems to 46 seats at the general election, the most a third party had achieved since 1929.
There were rumours Ashdown, who had held ‘secret’ coalition talks with Tony Blair, would be offered a Cabinet post in the New Labour government but the offer never materialised.
It was also suggested he would get a Cabinet job under Gordon Brown in 2007 or as part of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in 2010 but he remained on the opposition benches.
Ashdown (left) with two of his successors as Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy (centre) and Nick Clegg (right)
Ashdown during his Army days. He joined the Royal Marines and served in the Special Boat Service in the Far East. His service also led him to patrols on the streets of Belfast
Ashdown, pictured, was first elected to the House of Commons in 1983 following a military career and time with the Foreign Office
Paddy Ashdown with his wife Jane in central London in April 2014. Their marriage survived the revelation that he had a five-month affair with his secretary
He also campaigned for Remain in 2016, saying after the Brexit vote that he felt a ‘sense of personal bereavement’.
During the campaign he appeared at Remain events alongside then-PM David Cameron and Lord Kinnock, the former Labour leader.
In his final tweet, sent last month at the height of the Westminster drama over the withdrawal deal, he was scathing about the divisions in the Tory party.
He wrote: ‘Having snoozed contentedly over the weekend while their poor orphan leader has been out trying to win support for the insupportable, watch what happens next as May’s Cabinet of revivifying vipers snuff the air and slither off in search of advantage for the next stage.’
The Liberal Democrats said in a statement: ‘Paddy 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.’
Sir Nick Clegg, who would as leader take the Liberal Democrats into government in 2010, said: ‘Paddy was the reason I entered politics. He was the reason I became a liberal.
‘And he became a lifelong mentor, friend and guide. Much will, rightly, be said about him in the days ahead. He was a soldier, a diplomat, a writer, a leader, a campaigner, a servant of his constituents, and an international statesman.
‘But the thing I admired most in him is that rarest of gifts – a politician without an ounce of cynicism.
Ashdown with his wife Jane after the affair with his secretary – which led to the nickname ‘Paddy Pantsdown’ for the Lib Dem leader – was revealed
Ashdown poses at Buckingham Palace in 2015 (left) after he was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour, and holds an honorary degree from the University of Westminster in 2007 (right)
Paddy Ashdown speaks with a voter while campaigning in Portsmouth South during the 1997 general election, at which his party won 46 seats
‘He was the most heartfelt person I have known – loyal and generous to a fault. Like so many others, I will miss him terribly.’
Former prime minister David Cameron said: ‘I’ve seldom known a public servant with so much energy and dynamism.
‘A passionate and charismatic leader and brilliant communicator, never more so than when he championed the Balkans and appealed to governments of the day to do more in the 1990s.
‘Most of all, Paddy was a thoroughly decent, compassionate, knowledgeable and thoughtful human being.
‘The UK, liberal democracy and rational, moderate, cross-party debate have lost a great advocate.’
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: ‘Paddy Ashdown was an advocate for those others forgot, full of courage, integrity and immensely gifted.
‘He served the people of the Balkans with passion and inspiration, an agent of reconciliation. He will be greatly missed.’
Paddy Ashdown, pictured here with his wife Jane, and dog Luke, died earlier today aged 77
Ashdown and his wife face the press after it was revealed he had an affair with his secretary. Jane Ashdown forgave her husband and the couple remained together
Paddy Ashdown pictured in 1989, when he was leader of the Liberal Democrats, formed a year earlier as a merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party
Another ex-party leader, Tim Farron, said: ‘Paddy Ashdown was a hero to me, he saved and revived the Liberal Democrats at our lowest ebb, and then led us to our best result for 70 years.
‘As a movement, we owe him our very existence. Much love to Jane and the family. Thank you boss.’
Menzies Campbell, who was party leader from 2006 to 2007, said Ashdown was a ‘liberal through and through’ and a ‘man of quite extraordinary energy’.
He said: ‘Many words will be spoken and written about Paddy Ashdown, the politician.
‘He was a commanding figure in British political life, courageous, committed and charismatic. But my feeling is one of great loss of a friend whom I both admired and respected.’
Current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘My thoughts are with the family and friends of Paddy Ashdown.
‘He represented Yeovil very well and I got to know him in the 1980s when we often found ourselves voting in Parliament together against damaging government policies. He will be greatly missed.’
The party’s deputy leader Tom Watson said: ‘I am very sorry to hear that Paddy Ashdown has died. He was a decent, measured and dedicated public servant.
‘My thoughts are with his family and the very many Lib Dem members who will mourn his loss. He made a difference.’
Conservative former Brexit Secretary David Davis said: ‘Very sad to hear of Paddy’s demise. We had many different views but he was a very good man.’
Lord Newby, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, said: ‘Paddy was a natural leader: energetic, charismatic and strategic.
Ashdown waves in July 1988 after he was elected the first permanent leader of what was then called the Social and Liberal Democrats
Ashdown meets the Queen in 2014 at the launch of the Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs at Chatham House in London
Three party leaders: Paddy Ashdown (centre) is pictured with former Liberal leader David Steel (left) and successor Charles Kennedy (right) at a London hotel in December 2007
‘He kept the Liberal Democrats alive in our early years and never lost his verve for promoting liberal values. Having worked with him for 30 years, I will miss him greatly.’
Labour MP Angela Rayner also paid tribute, saying: ‘Shocked at the passing of former leader of the Liberal Democrats Paddy Ashdown.
‘Whilst we had our political differences he was a staunch defender of human rights and social justice, a truly sad evening for all who fight for social justice in our country.’
‘Lib Dem MP Layla Moran said he was ‘one of the few originals in British politics’.
She continued: ‘A unique character, a force of nature and an incredible intellect. As a candidate and MP he encouraged me to be more than I thought I could be.’
London mayor Sadiq Khan said: ‘Saddened to hear of the death of Paddy Ashdown. Whether as Liberal Democrat leader or UN high representative, he always put his country first and was a a strong campaigner for social justice and human rights.’
Andrew Mitchell, who worked with Lord Ashdown while he served as the Conservative international development secretary in the former coalition government, said: ‘He was a wonderful man and a hugely effective politician.
Paddy Ashdown poses with his wife Jane beside Blackpool Tower at the 1988 party conference
Ashdown in London in 2015. He entered ‘secret’ coalition talks with Tony Blair in 1997 but a rumoured offer of a Cabinet post never materialised
‘I worked with him closely on a range of international development issues and I had enormous respect for him.
‘He was an extraordinary character. Mrs Thatcher had immense respect for him and although he was a political opponent, held his views in the highest regard.’
Anna Soubry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe, said: ‘So very sorry to learn that Paddy Ashdown has died.
‘I came to know him in the last few years and liked him and his values enormously. Thoughts with his family and his many dear friends.’
Ashdown devoted a large amount of his time to the Bosnia conflict, making frequent visits to the battlezones.
He also underlined his disdain for Parliament by touring the country from Cornwall to the Orkneys, spending time on housing estates, in schools and factories, with social workers and policemen, miners, dustmen, farmers and fishermen.
After stepping down as leader in 1999, Mr Ashdown 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. The same year he testified as a witness for the prosecution at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal.