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Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown dies

PUBLISHED: 21:32 22 December 2018 | UPDATED: 21:32 22 December 2018

File photo dated 25/06/15 of former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown after being awarded a Companion of Honour by the Princess Royal at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London. Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has died at the age of 77 after a short illness. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Saturday December 22, 2018. See PA story DEATH Ashdown. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

File photo dated 25/06/15 of former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown after being awarded a Companion of Honour by the Princess Royal at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London. Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has died at the age of 77 after a short illness. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Saturday December 22, 2018. See PA story DEATH Ashdown. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has died at the age of 77 after a short illness.

File photo dated 28/07/88 of Paddy Ashdown, with his wife Jane, on the day he was elected the leader of the new Social and Liberal Democratic Party. Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has died at the age of 77 after a short illness. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Saturday December 22, 2018. See PA story DEATH Ashdown. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire File photo dated 28/07/88 of Paddy Ashdown, with his wife Jane, on the day he was elected the leader of the new Social and Liberal Democratic Party. Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has died at the age of 77 after a short illness. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Saturday December 22, 2018. See PA story DEATH Ashdown. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire

The politician and former Royal Marine, who led the party for from 1988 to 1999, passed away on Saturday evening, a party spokesman said.

He revealed in November that he was being treated for bladder cancer.

Sir Vince Cable, the party’s current leader, said it was “a hugely sad day” for the party and everyone else across politics “who had immense affection and respect for Paddy”.

Sir Vince said: “He was famous for his politics, but his talents extended well beyond that arena.

“He was an accomplished author, and had spent many years serving the country before he got near the House of Commons.

“Few people know how hard he fought to get into politics following his service in the marines and diplomatic service.

“He exercised every ounce of his considerable personal stamina to win the Yeovil seat.

“He was a personal example to me and to many other candidates.”

Mr Ashdown, MP for Yeovil from 1983 to 2001, hit the headlines four years into his leadership when, in 1992, he revealed he had had a five-month affair with his secretary, which led the Sun to nickname him “Paddy Pantsdown”.

His marriage to wife Jane survived the scandal.

Lord Ashdown was credited with making the Lib Dems a significant third force in politics during the 1990s.

After stepping down as leader in 1999, Mr Ashdown - who served in the Special Boat Service during his time in the forces - was knighted and then made a peer as Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon.

He became High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina in May 2002.

He went on to play a role in the Remain campaign during the 2016 referendum.

After revealing his cancer diagnosis, he tweeted: After revealing his diagnosis, he tweeted that it “does not merit a fuss”, adding: “Many go through this. The NHS guys in Yeovil Hosp. are BRILLIANT.

“I have the best of people and the best of friends to fight this with, which makes me, as so often in my life, very lucky.”

Sir Nick Clegg, who would as leader take the Liberal Democrats into government in 2010, said: “Paddy was the reason I entered politics. He was the reason I became a liberal.

“And he became a lifelong mentor, friend and guide. Much will, rightly, be said about him in the days ahead. He was a soldier, a diplomat, a writer, a leader, a campaigner, a servant of his constituents, and an international statesman.

But the thing I admired most in him is that rarest of gifts - a politician without an ounce of cynicism.

“He was the most heartfelt person I have known - loyal and generous to a fault. Like so many others, I will miss him terribly.”

Tributes also came in from his former political opponents, with Sir John Major saying he was a “a man of duty, passion, and devotion to the country he loved - right up to the very end”.

He said Lady Ashdown and the rest of his family could be proud of his achievements, adding: “In Government, Paddy Ashdown was my opponent. In life, he was a much-valued friend.

“His loss will be felt deeply by many - and not least by myself.”

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