Western Gazette – 28 November 1996
An attempt has recently been made in the national press to defend the integrity of Paddy Ashdown's record on nuclear deterrence. This is no easy task.
On 22 October 1983, as a newly elected MP, Mr Ashdown shared the CND's Hyde Park platform with Neil Kinnock at the largest anti-nuclear demonstration held in Britain during the closing phase of the Cold War. He described NATO's cruise missile as "the front end of the whole anti-nuclear struggle. It is the weapon we HAVE to stop."
On 19 July 1984, the Communist Morning Star approvingly reported his description, at a press conference, of Britain's Trident deterrent as "a monstrous folly which we should divest ourselves of as soon as possible."
In the CND magazine Sanity in December 1985, he declared: "I remain wholly opposed to nuclear weapons. I remain of the firm belief that Britain could afford to get rid of its nuclear weapons tomorrow and would not suffer in consequence."
In the same magazine interview, Mr Ashdown categorically stated: "I agree with the Liberal Party, which is the only British political party that has always opposed a British nuclear deterrent."
Yet, virtually on the eve of the last General Election, he had the effrontery to claim: "I never took the view that this country did not need an independent deterrent." (Newsnight, BBC2, 6 April 1992)
In short, when Britain and NATO faced a critical test of nerve at the height of our confrontation with communism, Paddy Ashdown lined up with the "unilateralists, pacifists and fellow-travellers" so memorably denounced at an earlier stage by the late Hugh Gaitskell.
There were plenty of people willing to "fight, fight and fight again" on this issue in the 1980s too, but Paddy Ashdown was not to be found among them.
Dr JULIAN LEWIS
Conservative Research Department