Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy

I was extremely sad to wake up this morning to the dreadful news about Charles Kennedy.

Recently I wrote about my long-standing support of the Liberal Democrats. It was during Charles Kennedy’s leadership, as I entered my mid teens and began to learn more about politics, that my support for the party solidified.

I never met Charles Kennedy and I know very little about him personally. But I admired him greatly as a politician. His death upset me even more than I would have expected.

He was known for his wit and down-to-earth manner. This made him very appealing, and is the focus of many of the tributes made today.

But he stood out as a politician with real integrity, and someone who was prepared to do his own thing. He would take a principled stance in the face of overwhelming opposition, as demonstrated by his position on the Iraq war.

Most of all, he recognised that his job was to represent the people. He could connect with the public, and seemed to have a gut instinct for what was right.

Take all those elements combined, and you have real leadership of the sort that is rare in politics today.

Charles kennedy (cropped)

It was sad to witness his downfall as Liberal Democrat leader so soon after he brought the party its greatest general election victory, in 2005. As his ill health began to interfere with his ability to do his job, the Liberal Democrats perhaps had no choice but to find an alternative leader.

But it was clear that his popularity among the general public remained undiminished. His continued occasional appearances in the public sphere reminded us that he was one of our greatest liberal voices.

However, as time went on, he appeared to have less of an ability to use that great voice. His opposition to the Liberal Democrats going into coalition with the Conservatives made him unable to be a spokesperson for the party. Yet his loyalty stopped him from, as Alastair Campbell put it, succumbing to “rentaquote oppositionitis”.

Charles Kennedy famously said, “I will go out of this world feet first with my Lib Dem membership card in my pocket.” He always was a person of principle.

Come the 2015 general election, amid the toxic mixture of the Liberal Democrats collapse and the SNP surge, he lost his job as MP for the constituency he had served for 32 years, since he was a 23 year old. It was a night of shocks. Charles Kennedy himself called it “the night of the long sgian dubhs“. But the loss of Charles Kennedy’s seat — of all seats — was the hardest to take.

As I said, I knew nothing about his private life. But with Charles Kennedy’s ill health being well known, it had crossed my mind that recent events may have made it a very difficult time for him.

The day before the election he published a heartfelt video on Facebook in which he appealed to his constituents to consider his record.

He reminded voters that his political opponents seek (in contrast to their rhetoric) to remove power from local communities and centralise it in Edinburgh. This message was dignified, and based on long-standing liberal principles.

I had hoped that Charles Kennedy would be able to play an active role in meeting the challenge the Liberal Democrats face in redefining the party while defending liberal values. I felt that he may have held the key to a Liberal Democrat comeback, even if at a community level in Scotland, away from the pressures of front-line politics.

Now I find myself hoping that he wasn’t the only one holding the key to success for the Liberal Democrats and for the defence of liberal values. We have lost one of our greatest liberal voices just when we need one the most.

2 comments

  1. I enjoyed reading your tribute to Charles Kennedy. Currently I’m watching the uniformly positive tributes on his untimely death in the House of Commons. There are far too few people like him in public life and friend and foe recognised his essential decency and honesty.

    I only met him briefly a couple of times (whilst campaigning for another political party in Inverness – I’m sure you can guess which one – something of a lost cause in our part of the world for many years) and he was charming and friendly even with us. I live in the other large constituency here, so he wasn’t my MP, but my late mother did and was a strong supporter always – she met him a few times (at hustings, coffee mornings ,etc) and she certainly regarded him as “her man in Parliament”. Few people merit, or receive, the kind of tributes he is receiving in the House of Commons today, but he certainly does. Sadly a somewhat flawed person in his private live (like many of us), but a decent, honest and kind man. So sad.

  2. Thanks for your comment Bill. It is clearly a measure of Charles Kennedy’s decency and ability that the tributes to him from across the political spectrum have been universally positive.

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