Nov 1959- June 2015
“CK” as he was often known, was one of remarkably few people in politics who would find appropriate, but sometimes unusual words, to understand and express peoples’ emotions. Many of us will struggle to do that now.
They say that Churchill took command of the English language and sent it to war. Charles did that for the cause of liberal democracy and all the decent values associated with it. That great cause which he espoused throughout his all too short life is now mourning deeply.
He had the courage to leave Labour and to be part of a new party, the SDP. Charles Kennedy brought hope to British politics and the courage to form the Liberal Democrats. The courage and skill to lead it in united opposition to the unprincipled and illegal invasion of Iraq.
When Charles had to resign as Leader, the Lib Dems were in great difficulty. However, he took my advice to quickly return to the fray just two weeks later in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election. This was the decisive moment in a famous victory which then restored the party’s fortunes.
A great leader
He instinctively knew how people with liberal values felt. He spoke for them, providing inspiration and common sense in sufficient quantity to lead the party to what he called “the greatest heights in the Liberal tradition since Lloyd-George in 1922”.
The “tragic flaw” described in his biography meant that many people never knew the gentle, generous, good man that I first knew. Privately, he knew a lot about what he couldn’t do and publicly he didn’t want people to see his weaknesses.
Part of his strength was to listen and to deliberate carefully, withstanding criticism that this was weakness. He then worked most effectively with those of us he trusted to try and deliver his objectives.
Many of us tried to help him deal with his health problems and much regret that we failed. When I was Chief Executive, and the party was becoming divided over them. I told him that what the party really wanted was “Charles Kennedy without alcohol.”
As Leader, Charles knew that he was standing on Paddy’s shoulders, he shook hands with Ming Campbell when he was succeeded by him. and the gains made under his leadership paved the way for everything that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats later achieved in government.
Read my other obituaries.