Paddy Ashdown GCMG KBE is one of the country’s best known and most respected political figures.
Born in New Delhi, Ashdown spent his childhood between India and Britain. He joined the Royal Marines in 1959, and became a member of the Special Boat Service. He went on to study Mandarin at Hong Kong University, and then spent five years as a British diplomat.
He entered the House of Commons in 1983 when he became Liberal MP for Yeovil, and in 1988 he became the first leader of the merged Liberal and Social Democratic Party, a post he held for 11 years.
He received a knighthood in 2000, and entered the House of Lords a year later. During the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Paddy was one of the leading advocates for decisive action by the international community. He became High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from May 2002 until January 2006.
THE CRUEL VICTORY marking the 70th anniversary of the Vercors Tragedy in 1944 was published by HarperCollins in 2014. Paddy is now working on a new book about the resistance in Bordeaux between 1942 and 1944.
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THE CRUEL VICTORY
In 1941 factions of the French Resistance began to plot against their German occupiers. Aided by Allied Arms and secret agents, they would seize the mountainous Vercors plateau in south-eastern France in a D-Day uprising intended to divert the Nazis from the Normandy beaches. But when muddled Allied strategy in London and Algiers saw them abandoned, some 4,500 young fighters were left to face the might of the German Army alone.
‘Excellent in showing how men across France mobilised. For Ashdown, Vercors is the “hidden story of D-Day” and he tells it with panache and great attention to detail.’ Sunday Express
‘A powerful account of an extraordinary story.’ The Times
‘A fine account.’ 5*, Daily Telegraph
‘Paddy Ashdown has produced not only the most thorough history to date of the Resistance in the Vercors, but also the startling new contention that, ‘The Germans did not win on the Vercors. They lost.’ Written with pace, the detail is fine… and Ashdown is well-placed to write this book, which requires an understanding of military strategy, diplomacy and political shenanigans, as well as old fashioned story telling skill.’ Spectator
PUBLICATION DATE: 5TH JUNE 2014
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‘The story of Operation Frankton is an extreme example of a plan brilliantly conceived and badly botched. The ten commandos who made a secret canoe raid in 1942 on German merchant ships have become icons of British wartime derring-do.’ The Times
‘No doubt many more books will be written about the war, but I hope this becomes a model for them since, though the heroism of our boys is stirring stuff, history only makes real sense if you can see it from all sides.’ Daily Telegraph
‘Paddy Ashdown has sifted the facts from the myths to write a fascinating and very personal account.’ Independent
‘It moves at the pace of a thriller and it’s real’ Nick Ferrari, Sunday Express
‘Ashdown’s insights and his extensive research in an impressive range of archives will ensure that yet another work on the subject will not be required in the foreseeable future.’ Times Literary Supplement
Winner of the Royal Marines Historical Society Literary Award for 2013.
PUBLICATION DATE: 17th September 2012
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THE ASHDOWN DIARIES VOLUME 1
On 28 July 1988, the day Paddy Ashdown was elected leader of his party and this diary begins, the men from the Inland Revenue had to be hurried from the party’s headquarters so he could make his first Leader’s statement to the press. (The Revenue had called ‘because of our persistent failure to pay National Insurance contributions.’) The party was virtually bankrupt, morale almost extinguished. In the depths of despair eleven months later, with everything apparently dissolving around him, he wrote in his diary, ‘I am plagued by the nightmare that the party that started with Gladstone will end with Ashdown.’
But history turned out otherwise. On 2 May 1997, when this volume ends, the Liberal Democrats under Ashdown’s leadership had been brought to their strongest position in two generations – 46 seats in the House of Commons and, as this book now reveals, on the brink of reshaping entirely the centre ground of British politics. The astonishing revival of his party (ruthlessly internally managed, as his daily thinking shows and despite his frequent confessions of nervousness and absence of confidence) is one of the great themes of this book.
The account which brings Ashdown gives here of his negotiations with Tony Blair to bring about reshaping, which were to an extent and intensity until now totally unguessed at except by their immediate advisers, is the main political story which this book has to tell. ‘Let me give it to you absolutely straight,’ Blair says to him in May 1996. ‘I repeat what I have said to Roy. The preferred option is very clear. It is to have you in the Government, even if there is a majority.’ The portrait of Blair himself and of those around him is the least varnished and most three-dimensional yet published.
Yet these are only two threads in an entertaining and gripping book. Ashdown shows the extraordinary pressure with which the political leaders now live, constantly in the eye of the media, fighting to protect some small patch of personal life, surviving on a few hours sleep per night for weeks on end. The stresses on him and his family are almost overwhelming. Racist thugs torch his car, and threaten to do the same to his house in his constituency (‘I am scared to death of the house being fire-bombed with Jane inside.’) The news of his earlier affair with Tricia Sullivan breaks in the press. The book shows how media crises are handled, and how he and Jane coped with what was thrown at them.
Finally, the Balkans. No British politician had such an intimate personal involvement with the crisis there during the 1990s or can write so authoritatively about it. Ashdown’s account of coming over Mount Igman at dawn and entering Sarajevo through the tunnel underneath the airport is as exciting as anything in adventure fiction. Yet contemplating Britain’s role there he writes, ‘I don’t know which was the stronger emotion, the anger or the shame.’ His condemnation of the inaction of the Conservative government is complete and unequivocal.
The completion of Ashdown’s account of that story, as of the domestic political negotiations which reached their high-water mark in April 1997, must wait for publication of his second and final novel in autumn 2001. In the meantime, it is clear from this first volume that Ashdown is providing us with the best and most detailed account of what it’s like to be a front-line politician, and of the processes of politics in Britain, since Richard Crossman.
PUBLICATION DATE: November 2000
THE ASHDOWN DIARIES VOLUME 2
On 2 May 1997, Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown led their parties to their greatest electoral victories for many political generations. In opposition, they had planned, if the Tories were defeated, to bring Labour and the Liberal Democrats into partnership in government and to heal the schism that had divided the left for most of twentieth-century British politics. But, as Ashdown notes here, ‘Blair and I succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. In fact, we succeeded too well. The Labour majority was much too big…’
This second and final volume of Paddy Ashdown’s diaries traces the intense and often fraught attempt by Blair and Ashdown to hold on to as much of their original vision as they could, against the instincts of many in their parties. Having failed to bring the parties together immediately after the election, they tried again in November 1997 and once more in the autumn of the following year. ‘The crucial moment when I knew it was irrecoverable was the evening of 29 October 1998, when Jack Straw was allowed to rubbish the outcome of the Jenkins Commission in the House of Commons and Tony Blair did nothing to counter him.’ It is one of the most gripping stories and greatest might-have-beens in modern politics, enormously revealing of both the main protagonists and of their chief lieutenants, here rendered in unvarnished and often blistering detail. Blair and Ashdown’s personal relationship was, as this book reveals, far closer than that of any other two party political leaders in twentieth-century Britain. This makes Ashdown’s judgements about the character of the man with whom he was dealing particularly authoritative, and probably the most acute that have yet appeared in print. As one commentator on the first volume of these diaries remarked, ‘His judgements about individuals ring startlingly true.’
Intertwined with this dramatic story are two others: the successful attempt to introduce partnership government on the basis of PR in Scotland, the background to which is revealed here for the first time; and Ashdown’s involvement both officially and behind the scenes, in the unfolding horrors of the Kosovo War. In the final section of the book Ashdown records why he decided to step down as leader of the Lib Dems at a moment almost no one expected.
Besides all this, the book shows what politicians actually do all day.
PUBLISHER: Allen Lane
PUBLICATION DATE: 16th September 2001
A FORTUNATE LIFE
No other British political leader of the post-war generation could have written a book like this for the simple reason that no other modern politician has led a life as varied, adventurous and dramatic as its author. He has been, in turn, an officer in the Royal Marine Commandos, a member of the Special Boat Service, a diplomat, an MP and leader of his party and an international peacemaker in war-torn Bosnia.He can, and does, write with authority about topics as diverse as evading water bailiffs while fishing illicitly at night (a legacy of his childhood in Northern Ireland); tracking down and destroying infiltrating Indonesian forces in the jungles of Sarawak; landing a raiding party from a submerged submarine; the difficulties of learning Chinese (he holds the equivalent of a first-class degree in Chinese, just one of his six languages); winning an apparently ‘hopeless’ parliamentary seat; negotiating with Tony Blair; and bringing stability to a country wracked by civil war.
He is deadly serious when writing about the things that matter to him – his family, his country, his party, the Bosnian people whose cause he adopted when it was deeply unpopular to do so – but he also has a refreshing gift for seeing the funny side of most situations and illustrates it with self-deprecating wit and a wealth of anecdote. Although this book covers his years in politics – the chapter on ‘The Winning of Yeovil’, an eight-year campaign to overturn an impregnable Conservative majority with the help of a second-hand printing press called Clarissa and a supply of potent home-made wine is particularly memorable – it is hard to imagine anything less like a traditional political memoir.
This is the self-portrait of a man who has lived life to the full and whose autobiography would be fascinating, even if he had never set foot in Palace of Westminster – a place whose intrigues and self-absorption, he acknowledges, he often found tedious.This is an autobiography by a politician which is totally unlike the traditional political memoir. It is the story of a life lived to the full, as a Royal Marine Commando, a member of the Special Boat Service and an international peacemaker, as well as an MP and a party leader. At a time when politicians are viewed with derision and suspicion, Paddy Ashdown is widely respected and admired, even by his political opponents. This books shows why.
PUBLICATION DATE: April 2009
SWORDS AND PLOUGHSHARES
The men and women of the British armed forces are currently engaged in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans in ‘peacekeeping operations’. How do we avoid these missions turning into long-term entanglements, like the current disaster that is Iraq? How do we bring our soldiers home? And what do we do about ‘failed states’ that are havens for gangsters and terrorists? Paddy Ashdown fears we will soon see major wars between nation states. Many will begin as minor conflicts that will expand into full-scale wars unless the international community intervenes. The way to stop the big wars is to deal promptly with the small ones.
There have been 15 UN-led interventions since 1946, and there are 74 wars in progress today. From his perspective as a former Royal Marine officer in the 1960s to the High Representative in Bosnia from 2002-6, Lord Ashdown is uniquely qualified to investigate the successes and failures of peace-keeping operations, reveal what lessons have been learned — and what lessons keep being forgotten. (The US strategy in Iraq serves as a ‘how not to’ example in almost every subject area.) His discussion of the highs and lows of previous missions includes George Robertson and the celebrated ‘Chivas Regal Accords’ negotiated in Balkan hotel bars. He points out that planning for post-war government in Germany began in 1943, two years before the guns fell silent. By contrast, George Bush sacked the teams working on plans for post-Saddam Iraq just as US and British forces invaded in 2003.
The men and women of our armed forces will be called to take part in many more of these missions in the next few years. SWORDS AND PLOUGHSHARES reveals the strategies required to avoid another Iraq-style disaster.
PUBLICATION DATE: May 2007