January 28, 2008

Lord Ashdown Viceroy Extraordinary!

Peter Cuthbertson is pleased that the Afghan government turned down the services of Lord Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and British peer, as UN special envoy to the troubled democracy. Cuthbertson may be right in the general case: that having failed as a party leader is no qualification to run a country after you leave office. But Ashdown is different and he is different precisely because he is one of those rarities amongst professional politicians: a man who has had real experience outside politics. Ashdown has military experience with British special forces, experience working in the foreign office and even perhaps though he has never confirmed or denied these stories in MI6. He was handled the Balkan role because of his long interest in the region in Parliament- frequently making trips there whilst Liberal Democratic leader. In such a way Ashdown combined real diplomatic, military and intelligence experience with the fact that he had been a party leader in a major democracy and therefore understood the way that politicians and campaigns worked- that unique combination meant that he was well qualified for a role in Bosnia and would have been well qualified having been a success there for a role in Afghanistan.

If politicians have done more in their private life before politics and demonstrated a particular interest and ability in one area, there is no reason that they should not be nominated for office there when their political career is over.