Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Charles Kennedy

This is going to be incoherent, a jumble of memories and opinion, as I take in the news which I woke up to. Charles Kennedy has died at the age of 55 leaving a young family who I weep for.

I do not subscribe to the motto "never speak ill of the dead", but it is truly difficult to find bad words to say of Charles Kennedy. His one great handicap, his alcoholism, has long ago been recognised as an illness rather than a character flaw. There is no doubt that it marred his leadership of the party, causing him to miss engagements and key speeches, but in my opinion he was not well served by hangers-on who prevented him and the party from coming to terms with it.

He will be remembered in political history as the man who alone among the major party leaders - and the party had become a major force in his time - stood out against the Bush-Blair Iraq adventure. It is not generally known that he was initially prepared to go along with the Establishment line. He was convinced by advisers of the moral and electoral value of resisting the calls to war. Having once been persuaded, he was resolute in his opposition.

However, the stronger memories are on a personal level. I met him twice. The first time was after the leadership hustings in Cardiff on a hot morning in 1999 when we exchanged words about the effect on a rugby match that was being staged later that day. The second time was during the 2006 Dunfermline and West Fife by-election after his resignation in contentious circumstances as party leader when he might have been expected to keep his head down. His entry to the campaign headquarters on an unexciting industrial estate in Fife two or three days in was greeted with spontaneous applause by us volunteers. Everywhere he went, he connected with people immediately. As Mike German said on Radio Wales this morning, he was the next-door neighbour you could have a chat with over the garden fence.

It is a pity in a way that he was so charming and witty because his image tended to be that of a lightweight. Behind the humour was an acute political thinker as his speeches in parliament, rather than on TV, particularly on the subject of Europe, showed.

There could have been so much more. Fate has deprived us of someone who surely would have been a leader of the fightback for the party. More, at a time when European cooperation and civil and human rights are coming under increasing attack, not only from the government benches, Charles Kennedy would have been alongside us in the resistance.

1 comment:

Frank H Little said...

It has been said that Charles Kennedy had no experience outside politics. It is true that his actual employment experience before he was elected to parliament was negligible, but he definitely had a hinterland. In addition to the croft to which he would repair when away from Westminster, there was also his family heritage.