Last I outlined the peacekeeping wisdom of Paddy Ashdown, as set out in his new book, Swords and Ploughshares. However, he has been dispensing other wise words recently, as well.On 11 July he was interviewed on 18 Doughty Street. As well as discussing his book, he sets out a frankly ominous prognosis for the future situation in Iraq and (worse still) Afghanistan. If we lose, he suggests, we face the beginnings of a regional civil war across the Middle East (in the sense that Mao Tse-tung saw the First and Second World Wars as European civil wars), the collapse of Nato and the end of our willingness to intervene to prevent conflicts around the world.
He also had some very interesting things to say about the liberal Democrats, however, and especially about Sir Menzies Campbell. He gave quite a good description of the House of Commons, Prime Minister’s Question Time and the difficulties of being the leader of the third party (7.30mins). As he later explains, “I would much rather have taken the risk of going into Sarajevo through the siege than standing up at Prime Minister’s questions the House of Commons. It seems far less dangerous and far less frightening.”
Of particular note is his comment on Ming’s performance in comparison to his own. “People forget this when they comment on Ming Campbell’s Prime Minister’s question, which I think have become actually quite good, I was a disaster. I was a disaster for the first year as leader of the then-Liberal Party. I was ritually handbagged in front of the television cameras of the nation… by Mrs. Thatcher, and people went around saying ‘Will this guy ever hack it?’ You just have to learn how to deal with that.” (8.30mins)
And what space is there for the Lib Dems in the new British politics. Ashdown cautions patience. The shine will come off both Cameron and Brown, he predicts. Ming should concentrate on sagacity, integrity, experience – these are the qualities that will work in our favour in the coming year or two.
He has many interesting insights into Tony Blair, whom he likes and admires and with whom he came close to working in quasi-coalition. In a particularly germane moment, he sums up Blair’s career in a manner that bloggers would have died to have managed only a few weeks ago. Ashdown tells us that Blair said to him that three things would define his term in office: 1) that Labour and the Lib Dems would realign British politics; 2) Blair would re-associate Britain with its historic role at the centre of Europe; and 3) Blair would do something about the widening gap between rich and poor. On all three he has failed.
Finally, the best moment has to be Paddy’s giggle when Iain tells him that when Iain heard Gordon Brown had offered Ashdown a cabinet job, he naturally assumed that it must have been foreign secretary (33mins). Paddy obviously didn’t think this was quite such a natural conclusion.