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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Profile: Lord Ashdown
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Lord Paddy Ashdown is one of the very small band of British politicians who are trained to kill - in his case by the Special Boat Squadron in the 1960s.

Lord Ashdown and Tony Blair
Ashdown and Blair shared a centre-left vision

And there have been times during his long political career when he must have been tempted to put those skills to good use.

It would, for example, have been entirely understandable if he had felt in lethal mood after his dreams of winning the Liberal Democrats' demand for PR voting for Westminster - and a possible job in a Labour cabinet - were abandoned by Tony Blair.

It is a dream that persists to this day, however, although Gordon Brown's attempt to woo him have failed amid fears it may have been a trap to divide the Lib Dems as much as a plot to underpin Mr Brown's power in a possible hung parliament.

Equally, Paddy may have been forgiven for wishing to grab reporters by the throat when they revealed his affair with his Commons secretary and then headlined him Paddy Pantsdown in the run-up to the 1992 general election.

In fact, his opinion poll rating actually went up after that episode and the way he and his wife handled it.

The project

And he regularly felt like exterminating elements in his own party when, as leader, they opposed his vision of where they should be going and the speed and determination with which he was marching them there.

That vision, as he revealed in 2000, was for a permanent re-alignment of British politics in which Labour and the Lib Dems, and maybe even a few disaffected Conservatives, would work closely together in a sort of unofficial coalition to keep the Tories forever in opposition.

Lord Ashdown
Ashdown turned down Cabinet job offer from Brown

Speaking then about the deal he attempted to do with Tony Blair after the 1997 election, he said: "The project was to design an aircraft which we believed could fly."

He added, prophetically: "What we have left is a blueprint for it to be done in the future..... I believe it will happen."

Now, for the second time in his political career, he has had the prospect of a job in a Labour Cabinet dangled in front of him, only to be rejected - this time by him.

In between times he served as Britain's special representative in Bosnia, a job for which he was perfectly suited as a result of his military and diplomatic background - he was a foreign office diplomat in the mid 1970s - and his political record, which had seen him placing the Balkans top of his foreign policy agenda.

Shared view

Lately, the man dubbed action man by many in the media during his party leadership era, has returned to his Northern Ireland home as head of the review into parades.

Whatever his critics may think of his parliamentary ambitions, few doubt that he is a formidable political and personal figure.

He used his military training to almost literally beat some discipline into the Lib Dems, a party which brought together the Liberals and most of the Social Democrat Party.

He set a punishing pace for his party and frontbench team during his decade as leader in the 1990s and started the period of growth in the party's fortunes which was later built on by his successor Charles Kennedy, albeit with a vastly different vision.

Personally, he was known as the demon of the Commons gym even, it was reported, managing to break some of the equipment with his aggressive training programme.

He is a friend and powerful supporter of Sir Menzies Campbell and it is believed the two share a view of the way the centre-left parties should cooperate.

Sir Menzies, however, has learned the lesson of the Ashdown years and is now hugely cautious, well aware of the potential traps in that approach and the deep opposition to such a policy amongst party members and MPs.

Still, whatever the future now holds for Lord Ashdown, it is unlikely to be simply living the quiet life in the House of Lords.

Brown offered Ashdown Cabinet job
21 Jun 07 |  UK Politics
Lessons in foreign intervention
11 Jun 07 |  Special Reports
Ashdown to head parading review
18 Apr 07 |  Northern Ireland
Brown says Labour must modernise
10 Jun 07 |  UK Politics


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