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Lib Dem leadership Tuesday, 22 June, 1999, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Paddy Ashdown's letter of resignation
Dear Colleagues,

I want to tell you of a decision which I took some time ago, but which I am announcing today.

After what will have been a very happy and productive eleven years as leader, the tasks I set myself to achieve for the Party are now nearing completion. I therefore told our Chief Whip, Paul Tyler before Christmas that it was my intention early in the New Year, to inform our President Diana Maddock, that I planned to stand down after the elections of this May and June.

This is not a new decision. Jane and I resolved, before the last election, that I would not fight another, either as Leader of the Party or as MP for Yeovil. Indeed, when I was first elected for Yeovil in 1983, I promised myself that I would not do the job beyond my 60th birthday and would stand down no later than the first general election after that date.

I believe that judgement was right. Exhausting though they can sometimes be, I have been very proud to be the Member of Parliament for my community and Leader of our Party. But I have a very clear idea how both these jobs ought to be done and no wish to do either after the point where I feel I can do them justice.

So, after the General Election of 1997, I decided that I ought to stand down no later than mid 1999, in order to give my successor time before the next election.

But before stepping down, I wanted to complete a number of tasks, to ensure an orderly hand over.

These were:

  • To consolidate the Party's electoral position after the general election.

  • To establish the policy of "constructive opposition", which we adopted after the election, on a firm foundation.

  • To begin the process of widening the areas of co-operation in the context of "constructive opposition" to other areas, where these are to our advantage.

  • To secure the Party's finances.

  • To see the legislation for the first nation wide PR election (for the European Election) safely passed into law.

  • To set - and have accepted by the Party - a strategy which best ensures that we play our role as participants, not bystanders in the programme of modernisation which I believe necessary for our country; which gives us the best chance of fair votes for Westminster and which opens the way to the reshaping of British politics, which has been the aim of my leadership since the Chard speech, more than seven years ago.

Last Thursday, the European Elections Bill received the Royal Assent and, on the same day we re-affirmed and expanded 'constructive opposition' to include co-operation with the government on a Common European Foreign and Security Policy.

So these tasks have now been, substantially, completed. There are still, however, this year's elections to fight.

The mid-term elections in May and June are the key electoral test in this parliament and I am looking forward to fighting them with you. After which I shall formally stand down and make way for my successor.

I have decided that it is right for me to announce these intentions now, so that the preparations for the election of a new Leader can be put in hand in an orderly fashion, rather than being an uncomfortable mixture of haste and surprise, as they so often are.

The leadership election will also, as has always been my wish, provide an opportunity for the Party to confirm democratically, the strategy I have set for the future.

This has not been an easy decision to make. I would not, for anything, have missed the privilege of leading the Liberal Democrats for the past decade or so.

It has been, quite simply, the best thing I have done in my life. I am deeply grateful to you all for the trust you have placed in me and for the unfailing help and support you have given me, especially when I made mistakes!

I shall lay all this down with great sadness. But also with some sense of achievement. For Jane and myself, however, this will be a chance to rediscover parts of our life with our family and friends which have had to be pushed to the margins in these past hectic years.

I shall also look forward to continuing to work for the Party under our new Leader. No doubt there will also be new challenges to seek out. I do not know what they will be yet.

But, I do know that, love this calling though I do, I have never been so obsessive about politics that I see it as the only thing there is in my life!

As for the Party, we are in the fortunate position of having potential leadership candidates of high ability and enthusiasm to take the party on to fresh achievements. There will, I know, be many new opportunities which a new Leader with fresh energy and new ideas will be best able to grasp.

There will be time for goodbyes in due course. For now we have one task on which we must exclusively concentrate. To campaign and win in May and June.

As you know, I love campaigning and this will be my last as leader of the Party - so I intend to enjoy myself - and, with your help, give my successor the best possible start for continuing success in the future.

Yours sincerely,

(signed) Paddy

Rt Hon Paddy Ashdown MP.

See also:

20 Jan 99 | Europe
20 Jan 99 | UK Politics
20 Jan 99 | UK Politics
20 Jan 99 | UK Politics
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