That day in Pittville Pump room in Cheltenham was a wakeup call. It must have been around 1983/4 as Paddy Ashdown had just been elected as the new MP for Yeovil in Somerset.
Sue and I had not long moved to Cheltenham from Bristol. We thought; let’s go along and hear what he has to say. In true Paddy style it was a lively night of anecdotes. Inspiration sprang from his enthusiasm and shear positive optimism. In effect he was saying to us – look if I can win in Yeovil you can do it here – it’s just hard work, it’s not magic.
That’s leadership by example. His practical and inspirational guidance, born of his successes, and failures, shone and lit-up the room. We both joined the Liberal Party there and then.
Over the last 34 years, there have been many memorable moments campaigning and at conferences where Paddy’s light showed the way. Here’s just a couple of moments that come to mind for no apparent reason.
Eastbourne was a Lib Dem conference venue that I liked. The town lacked facilities but to be by the sea in a friendly inviting place made up for it. It was said at the time that we followed Paddy Ashdown just to see where he would take us next. It was a polite way of saying that; not everyone agreed but we knew he would never be boring. One of those end of conference speeches aimed to lift the spirts of the assembly ran off at a tangent. Paddy slipped in a paragraph about the “information super highway” and how it was going to transform our lives. What on earth is he talking about? I knew but most of the audience were bemused. He’d rightly made us think about the impact of technology on the future of our society. In hindsight, that was great foresight.
Of the many by-election committee rooms where a visit from Paddy was mandatory, there was never one where the troops didn’t feel extra energy and enthusiasm when it happened. I’ve a picture in my mind of being at the Witney by-election not so long ago. Just about to pick up a packet of leaflets for delivery there he was chatting with anyone and everyone. Paddy’s words often came from a standard stable of well-worn motivational ways but every time they were delivered with remarkable freshness and impact. Boosted, I bet I delivered twice as many leaflets.
Paddy’s internationalism arced over every day to day politically theme. That I respect that as much as a dozen other convictions. He gave a lifetime of service to this country. Combining the wonderful art of heralding community politics at the same time as having a global vision.
RIP Paddy – you will ever remain a great inspiration. I feel sad but know I shouldn’t. I’m glad you showed us a way to be ambitious, visionary liberals and decent people.