Tributes paid to ex-Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown after his death aged 77

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Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has died at the age of 77 after a short illness.

The politician and former Royal Marine, who led the party for from 1988 to 1999, passed away on Saturday evening, a party spokesman said.

He revealed in November that he was being treated for bladder cancer.

Sir Vince Cable, the party’s current 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 was an accomplished author, and had spent many years serving the country before he got near the House of Commons.

“Few people know how hard he fought to get into politics following his service in the marines and diplomatic service.

“He exercised every ounce of his considerable personal stamina to win the Yeovil seat.

Paddy Ashdown
Lord Ashdown pictured in in Taunton on the day that the 1997 General Election was announced (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Mr Ashdown, MP for Yeovil from 1983 to 2001, hit the headlines four years into his leadership when, in 1992, he revealed he had had a five-month affair with his secretary, which led the Sun to nickname him “Paddy Pantsdown”.

His marriage to wife Jane survived the scandal.

Paddy Ashdown
Lord Ashdown with former prime minister David Cameron and ex-Labour leader Lord Kinnock at a Remain event ahead of the 2016 referendum (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

After stepping down as leader in 1999, Mr Ashdown – who served in the Special Boat Service during his time in the forces – was knighted and then made a peer as Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon.

He became High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina in May 2002.

He went on to play a role in the Remain campaign during the 2016 referendum.

After revealing his cancer diagnosis, he tweeted: After revealing his diagnosis, he tweeted that it “does not merit a fuss”, adding: “Many go through this. The NHS guys in Yeovil Hosp. are BRILLIANT.

“I have the best of people and the best of friends to fight this with, which makes me, as so often in my life, very lucky.”

Paddy Ashdown
Lord Ashdown and his wife Jane acknowledging the crowd following his speech at the Liberal Democrats conference in Brighton in 1998 (Michael Stephens/PA)

“And he became a lifelong mentor, friend and guide. Much will, rightly, be said about him in the days ahead. He was a soldier, a diplomat, a writer, a leader, a campaigner, a servant of his constituents, and an international statesman.

But the thing I admired most in him is that rarest of gifts – a politician without an ounce of cynicism.

Paddy Ashdown
Lord Ashdown after being awarded a Companion of Honour by the Princess Royal at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace in 2015 (Steve Parsons/PA)

Tributes also came in from his former political opponents, with Sir John Major saying he was a “a man of duty, passion, and devotion to the country he loved – right up to the very end”.

He said Lady Ashdown and the rest of his family could be proud of his achievements, adding: “In Government, Paddy Ashdown was my opponent. In life, he was a much-valued friend.

“His loss will be felt deeply by many – and not least by myself.”

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