Just before Christmas Britain lost a unique political leader. Paddy Ashdown was never one to shy away from being blunt and honest. He told the truth even if it wasn’t popular at the time.
Whether it was calling for 1p more on income tax to pay for education at a time when all others were talking of tax cuts or insisting for the first time on a fully costed manifesto, he brought a directness and honesty to leadership which is sadly lacking amongst the major parties today.
It is not well known that when he first became leader of the Lib Dems, Paddy toured the UK holding private meetings with people from all walks of life – not for publicity – but to better understand the difficulties and needs in all sectors of our economy, from business people to carers, charities, different ethnic groups and so on.
There were no photocalls and no press releases, just a solid determination to understand our country better. He was a leader who was far more concerned with what he did than what his status was. Sometimes he was wrong but he was always willing to argue his case, often forcefully. I too have been on the receiving end of his wagging finger and exasperated “now look!”.
The country needs leaders of his calibre and integrity to refresh our politics. I think the country is sick of being used as a pawn in the internal party squabbles of both the Labour and Tory parties as they struggle with deciding whether they are extremist parties or parties of the centre.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if, as part of Paddy’s legacy, there was some straight talking in politics in the new year? We are all adults and can cope with hard truths. We all know that complex matters are never a simple matter of one side is all good and the other all bad.
We all know that any kind of Brexit will make us worse off in the short and medium term but we can’t predict what will happen in the long term. There are too many variables beyond our control. We all know that Jeremy Corbyn’s plans to renegotiate Brexit in a few weeks are unrealistic posturing in the vain hope of securing a general election. We know that Scottish independence would make us worse off in the short and medium term but we can’t predict the long term.
At the Edinburgh level we know that when a Scottish Government Minister says there has been a real terms increase in funding for local government but all councils are having to make larger than expected cuts, it is a triumph of spin over straight talking honesty.
There is still a pretence that councils like Edinburgh City Council can continue to shed jobs and face reductions in spending while at the same time carrying on doing what we have always done. It is simply nonsense.
Too many of our leaders are shirking true leadership and simply kicking the can down the road, putting off difficult decisions as long as possible. Whether it is Theresa May putting off her vote on the Brexit deal, Jeremy Corbyn refusing to decide whether he is for or against Brexit or the SNP Scottish Government continuing to blame Westminster for things which are completely within their control, there is a dishonesty and fundamental lack of leadership.
The people see it and are increasingly disenchanted with politicians and politics. For me, democracy is too important for that.
So in the New Year let’s have a bit more straight talking and true leadership in politics.
That would be a fitting legacy for Paddy Ashdown.
Councillor Robert Aldridge is the Lib Dem group leader at Edinburgh City Council