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Wednesday, January 20, 1999 Published at 19:52 GMT

UK Politics

'Party must focus on elections'

Tony Blair was quick to pay tribute to Paddy Ashdown

Prime Minister Tony Blair

"He is one of the outstanding party leaders of his generation."

Foreign Affairs and Defence spokesman Menzies Campbell

"I understand it. Once you have fought two general elections as leader of the third party then I think you begin to wonder."

Former party president Charles Kennedy

"The thing the party's got to do is focus on the elections, and not get distracted by other thoughts."

Conservative leader William Hague

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"I wish Paddy Ashdown well for the future. We have often disagreed but we have always enjoyed good personal relations.

"He has led the Liberals with great determination, but his strategy of becoming as close as possible to the government is clearly failing.

"The effect has been to neuter the Liberals as an opposition party and to weaken the holding of the government to account."

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Jim Wallace

"As his first chief whip in the late 1980s and subsequently as leader of the Scottish Party, I have seen at close hand the energy, drive and determination which he has brought to the leadership.

"Our success in the 1997 general election and the fact that we are now seeing much of our long held constitution agenda coming to fruition owes much to Paddy's vision and determination.

"He has assured me that he will be campaigning with his usual vigour to secure Liberal Democrat success in the Scottish Parliament elections as well as the local elections taking place in May and the European election in June."

Former Lib Dem president Robert Maclennan

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"He has been a long serving and highly successful leader who has taken this party to new levels of achievement"

"We are as strong as this party has ever been. He can step down in the certain knowledge that he leaves us in extremely good heart.

"He leaves his successor time to play himself in before the general election."

Lib Dem environment spokesman Matthew Taylor

"I think people are very appreciative of Paddy's work.

"There was an air of regret in the meeting. People were not expecting it.

"I don't think minds will turn to much else before the elections."

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond

"Paddy Ashdown has always shown himself to be a man of principle, whose contribution to his party has been great.

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"He has also been a strong parliamentarian with a keen human vision and a concern for those who are suffering in the world.

"In UK terms he leaves the Liberals much stronger than he found them, but that is not true in Scotland and this decision seems to have been made without remembering that the Scottish Liberals are about to enter the most crucial electoral contest in their history.

"While the Scottish Liberals are engaged in a campaign for the Parliament, the Liberals in the UK will be consumed in a leadership struggle."

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