Ex-Liberal Democrat Party Leader and former MP of Ross, Skye and Lochaber Charles Kennedy has died, aged 55 at his home in Fort William, the Highlands.
Tributes have been pouring in from politicians across the political spectrum since his death last Monday, and a tribute speech was made by Nick Clegg in the House of Commons. Clegg said that Kennedy was ‘Brave yet vulnerable, brilliant yet flawed. He was a fully signed-up member of the human race’. Clegg had previously said that on a good day Mr Kennedy had
more political talent in his little finger than the rest of us put together. Charles devoted his life to public service, yet he had an unusual gift for speaking about politics with humour and humility which touched people well beyond the world of politics.
Charles Kennedy came from a relatively humble background. He was an MP for 32 years, and took part in 8 General Elections since the age of 23, starting out as part of the Social Democratic Party, becoming the youngest MP in 1983. He was a spokesman on social security, Scotland and health before the party merged with the Liberals to form the Liberal Dems in 1988 and retained his frontbench roles. He became the Liberal Democrat leader after Paddy Ashdown in 1999, and under his leadership the Liberal Democrats won more seats in 2005 than any Liberal Democrat leader, an even greater achievement considering his first child was born in the same year and he had committed himself to his family life.
During the 1990s, Charles Kennedy appeared in numerous TV chat shows, where he gained the nickname ‘Chatshow Charlie’, which he always hated. He has appeared in satirical chat shows such as Have I Got News For You, which for many showed that he was very much human in his ability to laugh at politics and at times, himself.
Many have praised Kennedy for being a rare breed of politician – honest, full of integrity and putting his constituents before party politics and his own reputation. His passion and work for social justice and equality transcended political partisanship.
Following his retirement and being succeeded by Nick Clegg in the 2010 General Election, Kennedy did not play any role in the coalition government and was the only Liberal Democrat MP to have voted against the Liberal Democrat’s decision to enter a coalition with the Conservatives. During his time as leader, he also took a strong stance against the decision to invade Iraq when both Labour and the Conservatives were generally in favour, which Nick Clegg has called ‘enormously courageous’.
He resigned in 2007 following trouble with alcoholism and wanting to commit more to his family. He had a difficult time in the months prior to his unexpected death, with his father passing away in April and losing his Parliamentary seat to the SNP in May that he had held for 32 years.
David Cameron has called his death a ‘tragic loss‘ for his family and for public life in general, and told BBC News:
He was someone of immense ability. It’s not that often in politics that someone comes along with brains, talent, wit and bags of humanity and Charles had all of those things.
Key Labour figures have also paid tribute, with Harriet Harman also describing his death as a huge loss, saying he was ‘a delightful person with a great intellect’. Tony Blair, despite frequently clashing with Charles Kennedy over the Iraq war, said he had the greatest of respect for Kennedy, who became an MP in the same year as him.
Nicola Sturgeon tweeted ‘Sad beyond words to hear the news about Charlie Kennedy. A lovely man and one of the most talented politicians of his time. Gone too soon’.
Julien Poulain, President of the newly-formed university Liberal Democrat Society said;
“It’s enormously sad that he’s died at only 55 years old. He was talented, and well liked amongst the public and politicians of all the different parties. Not to mention, he delivered the Lib Dems greatest ever election success with 62 seats. I’m sure he’s in the thoughts of all the society’s members”.
The Liberal Democrat Party has opened an online Book of Condolences for members of the public to sign in they wish.