The political world is reeling from the sudden death this morning, 1st June 2015, of the 55 year old Charles Kennedy. MP for Ross, Cromarty and Skye [Ross, Skye and Lochaber from 2005] following his election as its Social Democrat MP at the age of 23. He was then the youngest sitting member in the House of Commons.
Mr Kennedy died in his home in Fort William last night.
Sharply intelligent, amusing, congenial and open-hearted, there are few who did not feel warmly about Charles Kennedy, politically and personally.
He was a courageous and principled politician who led the country’s opposition to the illegal war against Iraq into which Tony Blair and the Labour party administration of the day led the country. Many will remember his inspirational address to the huge anti-war rally in London at that time.
In 1994, upon the controversial merger of the Liberal party and the young Social Democratic Party into the Liberal Democratic Party, Kennedy became its first President.
Kennedy became Leader of the then Liberal Democrats in 1999 when Paddy Ashdown resigned, leading the party through two General Elections to achieve its greatest ever number of seats – 62.
On 7th January 2006, with serious internal concerns about his ability to continue to lead the party while dealing with alcoholism, he resigned the leadership, having first announced his intention to fight and to contest a leadership election. He was succeeded by Sir Menzies Campbell.
During this chaotic period, Charles Kennedy was unforgivably betrayed by his former press secretary, the journalist, Daisy McAndrew. She was the source for a media story on the detail of the impact of his drinking on his personal and domestic life – in intimate and forensic detail.
It is to be hoped that this excursion proves a watershed in reminding the press that there are times when humanity alone demands some sense of responsibility in reporting. Drink makes embarrassing and troublesome pests of everyone it overcomes. Everyone has a right to what dignity they can retain in public.
Kennedy’s battle with drink has been the defining challenge of the latter part of his life. It saw an end to his 2002 marriage to Sarah Gurling in August 2010. He is survived by their young son.
His recent experiences had offered him profound and complex challenges.
His beloved father, a mainstay of his life, died in the last days of the 2015 General Election in which Charles Kennedy also lost his parliamentary seat. For 32 years this had been the shaping purpose and in a way the governor of his life.
For very many of us, Charles Kennedy was a memorable and likeable part of the structure of British politics as we have known it.
Political tributes – in order of receipt
Dave Thompson SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch.
Mr Thompson says: ‘Charles Kennedy was a wonderful man whom I appreciated knowing and debating with. My – and my wife Veronica’s, prayers go out for him and to his family at this sad time.
‘Charles is a great loss to the Highlands. Though we disagreed on some points he always offered wise words and I believe he displayed great integrity and great courage.’
Ian Blackford, newly elected SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Mr Blackford says: I am shocked and saddened at the news of Charles Kennedy’s death. He was a bright, articulate and gregarious man and it is so sad that he has been taken at such a young age. My thoughts are with his family and all who knew and loved him.
‘Charles was a very kind, decent and honest man. I have known him for a long time, and I will remember him as someone that could rise above party politics.
‘I recall election night in 1999 – not a good night for the SNP, but Charles showed tremendous kindness and support that evening. I will never forget that.
‘On the doorstep in the constituency there was undoubtedly a lot of warmth expressed toward him – and he had helped a lot of people during his time as an MP. His humanity and kind nature endeared him to so many.
‘Charlie Kennedy set a fine example of how a member of parliament should serve their constituents and make their political arguments and that is something all of us in public life should all learn from and aspire to.’
[Editor: It is worth saying that Mr Blackford also deserves sympathy in what may be an invitation to blame himself. He ought not to hold himself responsible in any way because he took the seat Charles Kennedy had held for so long. Politics brings recurring contests which are open to all comers. No one has a ‘right’ to hold any seat and, in life, nothing lasts. We are each responsible for ourselves.]
Jamie McGrigor, Highlands & Islands Conservative MSP
JamieMcGrigor says: ‘I am deeply saddened by this tragic news which will come as a terrible shock to so many people.
‘One cannot think of politics in the Highlands without thinking of Charles Kennedy who through his extraordinary talents and affability with his constituents- for whom he fought many successful battles- reached the highest pinnacle that his party had achieved for many generations.
‘The Highlands, and particularly Lochaber, have lost a great champion.
‘His loss will be deeply mourned by a great many and my thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Ruth Davidson MSP, Scottish Conservative Leader
Ruth Davidon says’: I am deeply saddened by the death of Charles Kennedy.
‘He was a politician who transcended party politics and his gentle warmth always conveyed an intelligent humanity when he spoke.
‘My thoughts and prayers go to his family.’