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1988: Ashdown to lead Britain's third party

The MP for Yeovil, Paddy Ashdown, has been elected the first leader of the new Social and Liberal Democrat Party.

Mr Ashdown, 47, won a decisive victory with 41,401 votes - 71.9% - against former deputy leader of the Liberal Party Alan Beith who polled 16,906 votes - 28.1%.

Following an eight-week campaign Mr Ashdown was widely expected to win the election, but the size of the margin was a surprise.

With such a strong mandate his team is confident they can build a strong third political party for the UK that can provide "a decent, effective and responsible" alternative to Thatcherism in three years.

Mr Ashdown gave an optimistic press conference after receiving the results outside the SLD headquarters in Westminster, with his wife Jane and former joint leader David Steel standing beside him.

"Our first priority must be to look beyond the internal politics of our party to the concerns of our nation," he said.

Looking to the future

The ex-Royal Marines officer was keen to put the year-long problems of merging the Liberals and Social Democrats behind him and rejected any schemes for coalition with other opposition parties.

Leader of the SDP Dr David Owen sent his congratulations and renewed his proposal for an electoral pact.

Labour leader Neil Kinnock has dismissed Mr Ashdown's ambition to become the main opposition party.

Mr Ashdown hopes to exploit internal arguments within the Labour Party and has said he does not expect they will form a government again.

Positions within the SLD will be announced in September and Mr Ashdown will go on a nationwide tour in October.

Paddy Ashdown did not enter Parliament until 1983 - when he became MP for his Somerset constituency - after periods commanding a unit in the Special Boat Squadron and serving as a diplomat.

In Context
Paddy Ashdown led the SLD, later the Liberal Democrats, until 1999. He was succeeded as party leader by Charles Kennedy.

Mr Ashdown retired from the House of Commons just before the 2001 General Election, although he had increased his majority to over 11,000 in the 1997 vote.

Tony Blair made him a peer in 2001.

He became the international community's High Representative in Bosnia Herzegovina in 2002.

The 2001 General Election gave the Liberal Democrats their best result in 70 years - with 52 MPs and an enlarged share of the vote.


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