Memorial service for ex-Lib Dem leader Lord Paddy Ashdown

Lord Paddy Ashdown. Photo: Ian West/PA Wire
Lord Paddy Ashdown. Photo: Ian West/PA Wire
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Lord Paddy Ashdown was a man for “ideals, not shabby deals”, a service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey in honour of the former Liberal Democrat leader has heard.

Tory ex-prime minister Sir John Major paid the glowing tribute to a man he said was a “spontaneous optimist” as he addressed a congregation that included fellow ex-premiers Tony Blair, David Cameron and Gordon Brown.

Lord Ashdown moved from India to Comber, Co Down with his family in 1945 when he was four years old and spent seven years there before they moved back to his father’s home country of England.

Although christened Jeremy John Durham Ashdown, his Northern Ireland accent earned him the nickname ‘Paddy’ at his English post-primary school. He eventually lost the accent, but in 2010 he said he counted himself “with great pride to be a Northern Irishman”.

Describing Lord Ashdown as a “political opponent who became a friend”, Sir John Major said: “Not one moment of Paddy’s life and times was ever wasted.

“He was always an internationalist, wedded to reason and consensus and dismissive of tribal politics. A man for ideals, not shabby deals.”

The service heard that Lord Ashdown was a Royal Marine before entering politics and turning the Lib Dems into a major third political force during his time as leader between 1988 and 1999.

He then served as high commissioner for Bosnia and Herzegovina where Sir John said he faced death threats with customary humour. The ex-PM told the service that when Lord Ashdown was informed Serbian gangsters had put a two million euro price on his head, he replied: “It’s not enough.”

The service was also attended by outgoing Commons Speaker John Bercow, current Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson and former chancellor Ken Clark.

Lord Ashdown died at the age of 77 in December 2018, two months after revealing he was being treated for bladder cancer.