Sad to hear this morning of the death of Charles Kennedy, aged just 55. A flawed, but decent, man I hope history will remember him kindly; I will remember him as a charismatic, witty and very able man, equally at home in the House, on the panel of a TV quiz show or talking to the man in the street.
Charles Kennedy took the Liberal Democrats to their peak. Under his principled leadership the party stood against the Iraq War, no easy thing to do at the time; his MPs were encouraged to engage in their community, building on the LD reputation as local ‘trench warfare’ political fighters; he positioned the party to the left of centre, willing to take risks, wiling to look at genuinely progressive policies. All of this meant that they became a real force, Kennedy leading them to their high water mark of 62 seats.
Others will talk of his health issues, his drinking problems, the problems in his family life; I won’t dwell on that, as we all have our own demons, just mourn the fact that his demons brought him so low at a time when we really needed him. His downfall presaged the ultimate downfall of the party he, more than most, had built; we all know how the Orange Bookers seized control, how they continued to wear the ‘Left mantle’ they inherited from Kennedy but steadily moved the party right, how they hoodwinked the British electorate – for all the talk of Cleggmania they actually lost seats in 2005, and those they did win were more to Kennedy’s than Clegg’s credit.
Alone at the top of his party he spoke out against Coalition, and was much criticised for it at the time; in that, as in so many things throughout his political career (including Iraq), he was proved right with coalition being disastrous for both country and party. How much different could things have been if he had remained leader is something we will never know, but I’m willing to bet the country we would be living in today would be a lot fairer, a lot more pleasant, fundamentally decent.
Farewell Charles Kennedy. You achieved much but, so tragically, could have achieved so much more. You will be missed.