There was no armchair punditry from one of the Coalition's key elder statesmen Paddy Ashdown at the Elmwood Hall last night. He sat on the table front of stage and showed himself a keen analyst of foreign and domestic affairs, and the perfect after-dinner speaker.
Although promoting his autobiography, A Fortunate Life, Ashdown started with a hilarious anecdote about George Brown, Labour foreign secretary in the 1960s. The punchline, when Brown asked a woman in a red dress to dance, was that she wouldn't because he was drunk. It was the National Anthem playing and her title was the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.
Duly warmed up, we were treated to passages from his book that he felt revealed what his life was all about. With an honesty that is rare in his profession, Paddy Ashdown described his trip to Bosnia with journalists in the early '90s. After visiting a brutal Serbian prison, he later learned that one of the survivors had revealed that the casual killing of inmates had stopped after the British MP's visit. That was his “best day's work”.
There was a good Q & A in which Lord Ashdown refused to condemn the cuts on the day the Chancellor announced painful reductions in public funding, and discussed the use of mercenaries in Afghanistan.
This was a brilliant, one man Question Time.