Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, passes away aged 77
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Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, passes away aged 77

PADDY ASHDOWN, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has passed away at the age of 77 following a short illness.

Ashdown, who led the party from 1989 until 1999, had been diagnosed with bladder cancer in October.

In a statement this evening, current Lib Dem leader Vince Cable said it was ‘a hugely sad day’ for the party and wider political world.

“He inspired the Liberal Democrats from a polling position he famously described as ‘represented by an asterisk’, to become a formidable campaigning force, doubling the party’s representation to 46 MPs and laying the ground for the strength which later took the party into government,” said Cable.

Irish roots

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Born Jeremy John Durham Ashdown to army parents in India in 1941, he moved to Northern Ireland with his family at the age of four.

On his Irish heritage, he told the Guardian in 1999: “Yes, I am Irish. My mum was a Protestant from the North of Ireland and my dad from a family one of whose ancestors was Daniel O’Connell (I’m his great-great-great-grandson, I'm told).

“I was brought up in the north of Ireland, and being from mixed parents declared myself a Buddhist at age 7 – it seemed safer.”

He later studied at the Bedford School in England, where his accent earned him the nickname ‘Paddy’.

He served in the Royal Marines and MI6 before entering politics.

In 1983 he became MP for Yeovil, winning the seat that had been held by the Conservatives since it was created in 1918.

In 1989 he was elected leader of the new Liberal Democrats, which was created by the merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats.

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In 1997, his party won 46 seats, their best performance since the 1920s.

He was created a Life Peer in 2001.

Ashdown is survived by his wife Jane, their daughter, Kate and son, Simon.

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