The Ashdown Diaries
Volume One 1988-1997
(Allen Lane 2000 £20 642pages)
I have been meaning to read this for some time and finally discovered a copy at the bargain price of £4 in a second hand bookshop in Oswestry covered market. Waiting can yield great results for the patient!
I confess that I did not read every word of the mammoth tome – but is was revealing and illuminating for a number of reasons. It begins with Ashdown’s election as leader of his party on the 28th of July 1988 which happened to coincide with the day when the men from the Inland Revenue came to party HQ to recover monies owed to them. Ashdown inherited a bankrupt organisation with little vision of self confidence. The volume ends with the triumph of the 2nd of May election 1997 when the Liberal Democrats won 46 seats. These pages are part of the story of the reshaping of the centre ground of British politics. What surprised this reader was the astonishing revival of the party given the internal chaos and wrangling that Ashdown had to manage over this decade. There are some very surprising allies and detractors!
Further – what humanises Ashdown is his constant confessions of nervousness and absence of confidence. These doubts make him more real in the world of spin and image.
I decide to pass by on the accounts of his visits to the Balkans. I may well return to these pages at a future date – and no doubt it will form a substantial part of his forthcoming autobiography (A Fortunate Life).
What is most significant in these pages is the account of the emergence of New Labour and Blair following John Smith’s death. Blair offers Ashdown a place in Government ‘even if there is a majority’ and so we are given a very multi dimensional portrait of Blair and his advisors without the varnish of spin! It is not edifying.
The other picture that we are given is of the impossible pressure that politicians live under in the modern age, constantly living under the glare of the media and battling for any balance between the private and the public. Short nights of sleep, hate mail, long journeys and endless difficult negotiations with colleagues who want their own way are a small part of an unenviable life.
A good bedtime read. But don’t buy it – look for it on the library shelf or in the bargain section of a second hand bookshop.