Paddy Ashdown praised as man of ideals at Westminster Abbey service

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.

Former prime ministers Tony Blair, David Cameron and Sir John Major
Former prime ministers Tony Blair, David Cameron and Sir John Major (Chris J Ratcliffe/PA)

Describing Lord Ashdown as a “political opponent who became a friend”, Sir John 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.

John Bercow
Speaker John Bercow was among those paying respects (Chris J Ratcliffe/PA)

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 2 million euro price on his head, he replied: “It’s not enough.”

Lord Ashdown shrugged off fears put to him by officials that the gangsters could try to kill him by blowing up a petrol station next to his office.

Jo Swinson
One of Mr Ashdown’s successors as Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson (Chris J Ratcliffe/PA)

Sir John said: “Paddy asked, ‘Has anyone here ever tried to blow up a petrol station? Well I have, and it isn’t easy’.

“Paddy never claimed to be a saint, but he was a good man. Bigotry and injustice had no place in his world.”

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

Lib Dem former deputy prime minister Sir Nick Clegg made a reading.

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

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