Wednesday, January 20, 1999 Published at 23:13 GMT
Ashdown to quit as leader
Paddy Ashdown will quit as an MP at the next election
Paddy Ashdown will step down as Liberal Democrat leader after elections to the European Parliament later this year.
He will also stand down as MP for Yeovil in Somerset at the next election.
Speaking later to BBC News, he said: "The party was a wreckage 11 years ago. When I hand the party over I want to make sure it is firmly and properly established and it is a strong party going on the up.
Mr Ashdown told the BBC's Political Editor, Robin Oakley, that he was proud of transforming the Liberal Democrats from a "party of protest to a party of power".
He said he had enjoyed the last 11 years but was looking forward to having a rest.
'Spend more time with family'
He said his family had paid a high price for his political career and he said he wanted "more time with my friends and more space for my family."
He refused to be drawn on whether he would be interested in another high-profile job such as a European commissioner.
Hours earlier Mr Ashdown had been quizzing Tony Blair on Kosovo during prime minister's questions.
But Downing Street said Mr Ashdown had told the prime minister some time ago of his intention to quit.
A spokesman for Mr Blair added: "The prime minister views Paddy Ashdown as a politician of considerable distinction who makes a major contribution to his party and country."
Lab-Lib Dem links under microscope
Mr Ashdown's decision comes less than a week after stronger co-operation was announced between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
The Downing Street spokesman stressed that the links - the subject of much personal criticism directed at Mr Ashdown - were "not dependent upon personalities" but on the desire for "a more mature and modern politics".
Labour and the Lib Dems announced they would extend their co-operation on constitutional issues to cover common European and security policy last Thursday.
Mr Ashdown told Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Paul Tyler before Christmas of his intention to stand down this summer.
'Not an easy decision'
Mr Ashdown's letter added: "This has not been an easy decision to make. I shall lay all this down with great sadness. But also with some sense of achievement."
But last July Mr Ashdown told a Lib Dem gathering: "I intend to lead the Liberal Democrats through this Parliament, through the next election, and into the next government - if that's all right with the party, of course."
Mr Ashdown entered Parliament as the Liberal candidate for Yeovil in 1983 with a 3,600 majority.
Shortly after, Mr Ashdown was appointed as the Liberal spokesman on Trade and Industry Affairs within the Liberal/SDP Alliance team at the House of Commons. He became education spokesman in January 1987.
He was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats in July 1988, beating Alan Beith, and was appointed as a privy councillor in the following year.
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