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Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK

UK Politics

Action man bows out

Paddy Ashdown: Strong interest in the Balkans

The departing Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, was born Jeremy John Durham Ashdown in New Delhi on 27 February 1941, the eldest of seven children.

He comes from a family of soldiers and colonial administrators who spent their lives in India. But when he was four years old, his family returned to Britain to buy a farm in Northern Ireland.

He went to Bedford School in England where his Irish accent earned him his nickname Paddy.

Between 1959 and 1972, he served as a Royal Marines Officer and saw active service as a Commando Officer in Borneo and the Persian Gulf.

After Special Forces Training in England in 1965, he went on to command a Special Boat Section in the Far East.

A gifted linguist, he went to Hong Kong in 1967 to undertake a full-time course in Chinese, returning to England in 1970. He was then given command of a Commando Company in Belfast.

In 1972, Mr Ashdown left the Royal Marines and joined the Foreign Office. He was posted to the British Mission to the United Nations in Geneva where he was responsible for Britain's relations with a number of United Nations organisations and took part in the negotiation of several international treaties and agreements between 1974 and 1976.

[ image: Described as
Described as "outstanding" by Tony Blair
He was also involved in some aspects of the European Security Conference, also known as the Helsinki Conference.

After leaving the Foreign Office, he worked in local industry in the Yeovil area between 1976 and 1981, firstly with the Westlands Group (Normalair Garrett) and then with Morlands' Yeovil-based subsidiary called Tescan.

Tescan closed down in 1981 and, after a short period of unemployment, Mr Ashdown got a job as a youth worker with Dorset County Council Youth Service, where he was responsible for initiatives to help the young unemployed.

He stood as the Liberal candidate for Yeovil in 1979 and raised the Liberal vote to the highest ever level. He then fought the 1983 election in Yeovil and won with a 3,600 majority.

Shortly after entering Parliament, he 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. In the 1987 election, he increased his majority to nearly 6,000 and was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats the following year.

He was appointed as a Privy Councillor on 1 January 1989 and in the 1997 general election he further increased his majority to more than 11,000.

His decision to stand down came as a shock to many people when he announced it in January. It appeared he felt he had taken the party as far as he could and wanted to give his successor time to build their own team before the next election.

Married to Jane, with two children, is not expected to retire to a life of gardening, although he has also said he will stand down as an MP at the next general election.

His strong interest in foreign affairs and particularly the Balkans has recently led his name to be linked with a series of jobs in supra-national organisations.

But he was passed over for the job of leading the UN mission to Kosovo for French Health Minister Bernard Kouchner and his immediate future remains unclear.

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