Charles Kennedy-A man of great political integrity and conviction.
I’ve met Charles Kennedy. It was only once, at a movement for Europe event with a friend, where he was giving a speech. He instantly came across as being someone who had deeply held convictions, and came across as a man who had passion for what he did. All the tributes paid to him after his death show that my impressions were accurate!
Kennedy was a member of the Liberal Democrats and their former leader, but one could quite easily imagine him as a Labour politician. He joined the Social Democratic Party and won a surprise victory in Ross at the 1983 election, at the age of 23, a seat he held until last month. He was known for being on the left wing of the party, and came into conflict with SDP leader David Owen, finally falling out with Owen when Kennedy voted for the union with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats.
Kennedy remained on the frontbenches of the Lib Dem parliamentary party for years. After Paddy Ashdown resigned, he became Lib Dem leader and firmly signalled a new shift within the party to a social democratic position. He famously proclaimed “As leader of this party, I intend to speak up for social justice and fight for the voiceless and disavantaged, because, whatever you think, these voices are not being heard by New Labour.”
Under his leadership, the Lib Dems firmly opposed the Iraq War and some of the other authoritarian and right-wing decisions made by New Labour. He led the Lib Dems to their best result since the 1920s in the 2005 election, winning 62 seats. However, his problems with alcoholism were to take a toll on his personal health, and after some poor performances he resigned as Lib Dem leader. When the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, he remained a key backbench player in the parliamentary party. He voted against the coalition and things such as the bedroom tax, and cut a disgruntled figure on some occasions as a Lib Dem backbencher. A combination of the nationwide Lib Dem collapse and the SNP tide made him lose his seat, which took a further toll on his health.
Charles Kennedy was a wonderful man, with great integrity, courage, and conviction. He will be missed. British politics has lost a giant.
School of Democracy 2015 graduate