A personal tribute to Paddy Ashdown, Rest in Peace
“Extraordinary times demand extraordinary people, Daisy.” That’s what Paddy said to me earlier this year. He had frog-marched me from Holborn to Westminster and demanded to know what I thought about the state of politics, and what more we could all be doing about it. “We have to save our country, Daisy.”
Just two weeks ago I did some shadow-writing for him through More United. I used his line about needing extraordinary people. As I wrote it, I found myself smiling ear to ear. I joked with my partner how empowering it felt to channel my “inner Paddy” to write it. And then sheepishly said, “it doesn’t read too much like a swan song does it? I don’t want Paddy to think, y’know, that...” Paddy was too unwell to look at it.
I first met Paddy when we sat on a panel together as speakers at the Autumn 2010 Lib Dem Conference. We were only a few months into coalition government and it already felt very rocky. Even as a Card-carrying party member, Westminster politics felt very remote. I had started reading and writing about liberalism and ‘community politics’. And what it means to put people back at the centre of our politics. That’s what we were discussing that day. I can’t remember what Paddy said - but I remember feeling incredibly inspired. And moved to action. My friend Will sums up Paddy’s vision perfectly: “Paddy wanted people to be empowered - free from the chains of poverty, free from over-bearing states, and supported to achieve their full potential.”
More recently at More United (where I work & where Paddy was on the board), Paddy and I regularly discussed the state of the country and of our politics. I was honoured that he campaigned for me in St Albans in 2017 and that he spoke at a fundraising event for me personally as a Lib Dem candidate in July. “It’s the hottest day of the year - why the bloody hell is everyone wearing ties?”
Several times in the last two years he urged me to put together the “best liberal minds” from both within and outside the party. “We’ll host a dinner. I’ll tell Jane. No I won’t, I’ll find someone else to host the dinner. Oh I don’t know. Someone will. I’ll speak. If you think it would help? We must reignite our cause. We must get those minds together. In a room. We must. We must.” He was always fizzing - with ideas and words. I regret so much that this still sits on my to do list.
From first seeing his face on the front of my brother’s Lib Dem membership pack growing up, (“Who’s that?”, I asked. “Paddy Ashdown. He’s cool.” I think Oly said) to chatting politics over a cuppa (“Builders. Two. You take a builders don’t you?”), I always felt like I was in the presence of a great mind and a great leader.
In truth, I probably didn’t know him that well, but I did feel close to him. When we chatted, I felt we had a shared fire in our bellies, a burning sense of injustice about the state of the world, and an unquenchable appetite for making life better for ordinary folk.
He had leadership, charisma, vision and drive. We’ve lost a true political leader. He was one of those extraordinary people. And I’ll miss him.