FORMER leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, has passed away aged 77.

Sir Vince Cable and past Lib Dem leaders joined Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and others including Tony Blair in hailing the dedication and decency of the politician and former commando, who passed away on Saturday evening.

The former party leader, who was credited with making the Lib Dems a significant third force in politics during his tenure between 1988 and 1999, had announced he was suffering from bladder cancer in November.

The party announced his passing, saying he would be remembered "as someone who made an immeasurable contribution to furthering the cause of liberalism".

Sir Vince Cable, the party's current leader, said it was "a hugely sad day" for the party and everyone else across politics "who had immense affection and respect for Paddy".

He hailed a man who "was famous for his politics, but his talents extended well beyond that arena".

Born in India and raised in Northern Ireland, he later served in the Royal Marines and Special Boat Service, including in Borneo and the Persian Gulf.

He hit the headlines four years into his leadership of the Lib Dems when, in 1992, he revealed he had had a five-month affair with his secretary, which led The Sun to nickname him "Paddy Pantsdown".

His marriage to wife Jane survived the scandal.

After stepping down as leader, Ashdown, who was MP for Yeovil from 1983 to 2001, was first knighted and then made a peer as Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon when he quit the Commons.

He became High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina in May 2002 and, more recently, went on to play a role in the Remain campaign during the 2016 referendum, appearing alongside then-PM David Cameron and Lord Kinnock, the former Labour leader.

After revealing his cancer diagnosis, he tweeted that it "does not merit a fuss", adding: "Many go through this. The NHS guys in Yeovil Hosp. are BRILLIANT.

"I have the best of people and the best of friends to fight this with, which makes me, as so often in my life, very lucky."

Sir Nick Clegg, who would as leader take the Liberal Democrats into government in 2010, said Lord Ashdown had been "the reason I entered politics" and became "a lifelong mentor, friend and guide".

Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Lib Dems in Taunton Deane, Gideon Amos, said in a statement: “Today we have lost a Liberal champion, a giant beside whom other politicians and statesmen look puny.

"His commitment, his passion for justice, his determined belief in a Liberal Britain and all that means, stands taller today because of him.

"Through thick and thin one of his sayings was ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. We are here Paddy and have joined the just battle you joined to build that fair, free and open society in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

"You created and led a party to achieve that. You never gave up. We shall never give up and we will win, for all those who need a better, fairer, stronger country.

"I thank God for having known Paddy Ashdown and for the privilege of being able to call him a friend.

"We met on last on September 16 to catch up on the campaign to save Norton Manor Camp.

"I spoke to him again after his surgery on November 17. We chatted about his proposal to visit.

"As always he was an inspiration."