CHARLES Kennedy’s death leaves the public with the memory of political success ultimately unfilled, with his many victories undermined by an addiction to alcohol.
Known on all sides as a down-to-earth highlander, the many tributes to Mr Kennedy’s kind and genuinely warm nature show the reach of the man’s personality.
The sense of shock at Westminster yesterday was perhaps the clearest sign of the high esteem Mr Kennedy was held in.
Yet amidst almost all the tributes was a regret that a man who made politics a career but still connected with voters was also a politician whose addiction ended his career as party leader.
Mr Kennedy’s time in charge handed the Lib Dems the largest number of parliamentary seats they had ever seen, gaining in popularity as a result of the Iraq war and the unsuccessful Conservative leadership of Michael Howard.
His political career began in the Social Democratic Party, winning the Ross, Cromarty and Skye seat, the largest constituency in the country, in 1983 to become the youngest MP of the time at the age of 23.
His leadership of the Lib Dems from 1999-2006 was marked by his staunch opposition to the war in Iraq, which helped the party win 62 seats in 2005,
But just months after the election, Mr Kennedy’s leadership was brought to an abrupt end when he dramatically admitted that he had been receiving treatment for an alcohol problem. Although he initially declared his intention to stand in a leadership contest, he was forced to stand down in the face of the threat of resignations by senior colleagues.
He never returned to the Lib Dem frontbenches, but remained a popular figure in Westminster, and was one of only a handful of the party’s MPs not to vote in favour of coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.
Mr Kennedy, 55, was divorced in 2010 from wife Sarah, with whom he has a 10-year-old son, Donald. The loss of his Westminster seat came after an election campaign during which Mr Kennedy was forced to take a break following the death of his 88-year-old father, Ian, in April.
Former Labour director of communications Alastair Campbell yesterday wrote a blog on his family’s long friendship with Mr Kennedy and his shock at the sudden news that the Mr Kennedy’s body had been found at home late on Tuesday night.
He said: “We were all a bit worried about him after the election. Indeed, ‘is Charles going to be OK?’ was one of the questions Fiona asked me most often during the campaign, and, on the night the exit poll made it clear his safe seat was gone, ‘is Charles OK?’ became an inquiry of a very different nature. Representing the people of Ross, Skye and Lochaber meant so much to him.”
Mr Campbell, who faced his own problems with alcohol dependency, added: “Despite the occasional blip when the drink interfered, he was a terrific communicator and a fine orator. He spoke fluent human, because he had humanity in every vein and every cell. Above all, he was a doting Dad of his son, whose loss is going to be greater than for any of us, and who will be reminded of his father every time he looks in the mirror and sees his red hair and cheeky smile coming back.”
Former Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott said Mr Kennedy could well have remained today as the Lib Dem leader “if drink had not got the better of him”.
He said: “It was drink that got him. Terribly, terribly sad. But it is a terrible disease. I last saw him on a bus a few weeks before the election coming in. And we had a very good chat. But he clearly wasn’t at all well.”
MPs are to have an opportunity to pay their tributes in a dedicated session immediately after Prime Minister’s Questions today.
• WHEN Charles Kennedy entered the Commons in 1983, he did so as its youngest member, but quickly rose through the ranks.
Then 23, he used his maiden speech to talk of the urgent “need for a more tolerant, caring and compassionate government”.
In 2003 he used his position as Lib Dem leader to bring together opposition to the Iraq war, and lead calls afterwards for an independent inquiry.
In 2015 he failed to win his Ross, Cromarty and Skye seat and said: “The greatest privilege of my public life over these past 32 years has to be being entrusted with the responsibility of representing this constituency.”