Iain Dale, the Tory we all love to hate, has transcribed a long interview he did with Paddy Ashdown on behalf of Total Politics magazine.
A brief extract follows after the break, and the full interview is available over at Total Politics. (Aargh! Columns?! On a website?!)
Paddy is currently also promoting his book, “A fortunate life” – and if you buy it from Amazon using the link on the side, the party gets a little percentage of your spend, at no extra cost to you.
ID: Have you found the role of ex Leader rather trying? You have generally resisted temptation to make any intervention.
PA: There are three kinds of ex leaders. Those who say ‘I’ve been a brilliant general and to prove as much I will wreck things before I go and throw in hand grenades afterwards’. They think what they are doing is improving their standing as leader but they almost always diminish it. I fear that happened to Margaret [Thatcher]. The second type is ‘Thanks very much, I had a great time, I’m off to do my garden, please don’t trouble me again’. The third is ‘I’m off to do my garden, call me when you need me’. That’s what I have tried to be. I have tried to be for Charles, Ming and Nick the same kind of leader as David Steel was for me. He was always available when I needed him. I could always ring him up and say, David, ‘I need a comment from you; I really need to win this battle’. He would always come out and do it and that’s what I do too. Being a model ex leader is also part of being a leader.
ID: How do you think the LibDem membership views Paddy Ashdown ten years on?
PA: Probably more kindly than they once did. People often asked me why did I stand down? The truth is I was getting grumpy with them, they were getting grumpy with me. Perhaps the party has been lucky in that it gets the leaders it needs at the time it needs them. It would not have been a good thing if I had stayed on. I would have almost certainly tried to persuade them that the position they took on the Iraq War was wrong, and I would have found myself at loggerheads with the party and have had to resign. I wrote Blair a private letter a week before the invasion and said ‘I think you’re right’. With the benefit of hindsight that looks like a mistake. The war was not the problem. I personally think the war was probably justified – still. It was over quickly. It was a success. It was what happened afterwards that was the problem. That does not excuse me very much because the truth is that I, of all people, should have known the war wasn’t the problem but our complete failure to prepare for what happened afterwards was. I should have spotted that and made more of it at the time. I believed the Weapons of Mass Destruction stuff and maybe I shouldn’t have. History will bless this with a slightly different view from the one we see at present.