Political figures celebrate Paddy Ashdown’s energy, bravery and humour

Tributes have poured in from across the political world and beyond for the former Liberal Democrat leader and ex-marine, Paddy Ashdown, who died on Friday night, aged 77, only two months after he revealed he was being treated for bladder cancer.

Ashdown will be best remembered for transforming the Liberal Democrats into an effective third party – gaining their best ever result at the 1997 election – and for serving as the United Nations’ high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006. He oversaw the implementation of the Dayton peace agreement, which has kept the peace in the Balkans since the Bosnian war.

He was praised by politicians from across the spectrum after news of his death emerged.

Sir Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, said it was “a hugely sad day” for the party and everyone else across politics “who had immense affection and respect for Paddy”. He saluted a man who “was famous for his politics, but his talents extended well beyond that arena”.

Theresa May said Ashdown had “served his country with distinction”, adding: “He dedicated his life to public service and he will be sorely missed.”

Jeremy Corbyn said his thoughts were with Ashdown’s family and friends. “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,” said the Labour leader. “He will be greatly missed.”

The former prime minister David Cameron said he had “seldom known a public servant with so much energy and dynamism” and that “the UK, liberal democracy and rational, moderate, cross-party debate have lost a great advocate.”

Paddy Ashdown addresses the Liberal party conference in 1998.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Paddy Ashdown addresses the Liberal party conference in 1998. Photograph: John Voos/The Independent/Rex/Shutterstock
He said Ashdown was “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.”

Lord Kinnock, who led the Labour party for part of Ashdown’s time as Lib Dem leader, said he was “brave in his military service and in his political thinking and action” and had “imagination, tenacity, great enlightened instincts and a fine self-deprecating sense of humour.

“All of those qualities helped to make him a dynamic campaigner and earned him wide respect even among political opponents,” he said. “He will be greatly missed and I offer deep sympathy to [his wife] Jane and his beloved family.”

Ashdown became the first elected Liberal Democrat leader in 1988, stepping down in 1999. He served as the MP for Yeovil from 1983 until 2001, before receiving a peerage and entering the House of Lords as Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon. He continued to contribute regularly to agenda-setting political programmes throughout his later years and was a familiar face in the upper house.

He was a pioneer of cross-party collaboration and well known for rejecting tribal politics. He was an ardent pro-European and tireless campaigner. The former prime minister Gordon Brown called him one of the “towering political figures” of his generation.

Brown described him as “a strong European, a committed internationalist and a dedicated constitutional reformer”. He added: “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.”

Jeremy Bowen, the BBC Middle East editor, said how much respect he had for Ashdown, paying tribute to to his actions in his UN role during the 2000s. “During the Bosnian war most politicians pontificated from a safe distance,” he said. “I would see Paddy when he came into besieged Sarajevo across a risky mountain route. He used his own eyes and ears to work out the war’s rights and wrongs.”