Charles Kennedy’s post-election statement:
“I am very fond of political history. Tonight, if nothing else, we can all reflect on and perhaps tell our grandchildren that we were there on ‘The night of long sgian dubhs!'”
On 9th June 1983 Charles Kennedy became the Baby of the House – the youngest MP to be elected, and at the age of 23, he was the youngest MP at the time of his election from 1958 to 2015.
He was elected MP for the short-lived Social Democratic party: he was leader of the Liberal Democrats from 9th August 1999 to 7th January 2006, when increasing unreliability due to alcoholism finally led to his resignation.
He voted against the Iraq war in the House of Commons on 18th March 2003, and spoke against Labour’s support for the Iraq war in September 2003 at the LibDem conference. (Simon Hoggart, at the time, has less respectful but still kindly memories of Charles Kennedy.)
In 2004 when he arrived at the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference in Dundee, he responded to questions about his health with a joke:
“I think it’s touching – I did not know there was such spontaneous interest in my well-being.”
Alistair Campbell describes him as “a lovely man, and a highly talented politician” in a memorial to Charles Kennedy that must be read in full:
But our shared friendship was also built on a shared enemy, and that is alcohol. That Charles struggled with alcohol is no secret to people in Westminster, or in the Highlands constituency he served so well, for so long, until the SNP tide swept away all but one Scottish Lib Dem at the election last month. Perhaps another day, if his family are happy with this, I will write in more detail about the discussions we had over the past few years, and what it was like for someone in the public eye facing the demon drink. It was a part of who he was, and the life he had; the struggles came and went, and went and came, but the great qualities that made Charles who and what he was were always there.
More wisely than many of his colleagues, he opposed the LibDem/Conservative coalition from the beginning:
Like many others I was keen to explore the possibilities of a so-called “progressive coalition”, despite all the obvious difficulties and drawbacks. It remains a matter of profound disappointment that there was insufficient reciprocal will within the Labour party – and they should not be allowed to pose in opposition purity as a result. We shall have to observe their leadership machinations from the sidelines – but it is important that both the process and the personalities involved use that exercise to think aloud and imaginatively about the opportunities that a national debate on electoral reform now presents. I am not yet holding my breath.
I did not subscribe to the view that remaining in opposition ourselves, while extending responsible “confidence and supply” requirements to a minority Tory administration, was tantamount to a “do nothing” response. I felt that such a course of action would have enabled us to maintain a momentum in opposition, while Labour turned inwards. But the understandable anxiety among colleagues about an early second election scuppered that option. To which might be added the significant reality of devolved general elections in just less than a year’s time in both Scotland and Wales.
On Thursday 12th March 2015, Charles Kennedy appeared on BBC Question Time, giving what many people report was a “stumbling and confused” performance.
He died early in the morning of 1st June, alone in his home. His family say:
“We are obviously devastated at the loss. Charles was a fine man, a talented politician, and a loving father to his young son.”
It’s a sad loss for politics today, the death of Charles Kennedy at just 55, and much sadder, of course, for those close to him. I know it’s fashionable to bitch about politicians but I think people outside that sphere often just don’t appreciate how rough politics can be on individuals. It’s a largely thankless business. For everybody who cheers on the rare occasions one’s successes can be talked about in public, there are twenty people trying to pull one down on a constant basis, and no matter how considerately one goes about things there’s always somebody who will bitch and make it personal, even (perhaps especially) if one has gone all out to help them.
Is it any wonder we so often end up with sociopaths at the top? It’s much easier for those who don’t give a damn about people; and when somebody, like Charlie, really does, it damages them. I’m not surprised that it was too much in the end; that it ruined his health. Our political system will be much poorer without him.
So I just want to say, by all means call out those who deserve it, the liars and the cheats and those who only go into politics for personal profit, but remember that some people get involved in politics because they really do want to help (even if they have different ideas from you about what will be helpful); and remember there are human beings in there. Remember Charlie.