Clegg must be global ‘visionary’, Ashdown urges

By Alex Stevenson

Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown says tonight’s leaders’ debate on foreign policy is going to be “tough” for Nick Clegg – and has urged him to adopt a “visionary” position to win.

The man who led Britain’s third party from 1988 to 1999 – and subsequently served as the UN’s high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006 – said Mr Clegg had performed “at the top range of my expectations” in last week’s opening leaders’ clash on domestic affairs.

“He’s proving himself to be the politician I knew he was when I met him 15 or 20 years ago,” Lord Ashdown told politics.co.uk.

“There’s been two debates now – one for the leaders, one for the chancellors – and we’ve won both of them.”

Lord Ashdown co-chaired the Institute for Public Policy Research’s security commission which reported last year. It argued Britain faces a changing world in which, with an increasingly assertive Russia, the rising economic power of China and America’s growing diversity of international interests making it essential European countries work more closely together.

“My view is we’re living in a second age of internationalism,” he said.

“We understand now from swine flu, from the collapse of Lehman Brothers, 9/11, that we’re living in a world that is totally interdependent.

“The world has changed completely now. Most people realise if we don’t respond to that by deepening our capacity to work with our European partners then we will be weaker.

“I think Nick will put across that line, he’ll that across with energy. I think Nick’s role in this is to be the visionary.”

Lord Ashdown conceded that “it’s going to be tough” but refused to accept that the Lib Dem policy on Britain’s nuclear deterrent – opposing a like-for-like replacement – could reverse his party’s progress in the polls.

“These are serious arguments to be had – and there is a thoroughly respectable position for the position the Lib Dems have taken,” he insisted.