This week, modern British politics lost one of its greatest and most loved characters. Charles Kennedy was among the rarest of politicians; a man of principle, loved by his constituents, admired by his peers and respected by all those who had the fortune to meet him. It is rarer still to find someone who, upon their passing, few have a bad word to say about them. Irrespective of one’s political inclinations, he was indisputably a true gentleman and it was near impossible not to succumb to his natural charm and manner.
Born and raised in the Scottish Highland town of Fort William, Kennedy became a part of the SDP through the grassroots at university, fuelled by a desire to revive liberal politics in the UK. Soon this young upstart would become a man and as he grew, so too did his party – becoming the Liberal Democrats in 1988. In 1983, he secured the parliamentary seat of Ross, Cromarty and Skye, one he would go on to hold for over 30 years. Following his election as leader, he transformed the Liberal Democrats into a party which offered a genuine alternative to the status quo of British politics and, in doing so, brought them unprecedented electoral success.
Throughout his parliamentary career, he fought relentlessly and fearlessly for social justice; as Britain ambled towards the Iraq War, Kennedy stood firm, vehemently opposing any form of British intervention in the region without the support of the international community. In the public eye, Kennedy was very much a man of the people – through prime time appearances on Have I Got News For You and other panel shows, he was able to showcase his inherent knack for connecting with people and a distinctive dry wit that remains uncommon among politicians.
Still, every man has his demons, and even Charles Kennedy, a man notorious for his sharp turn of phrase and humour, was no exception. In 2005, it emerged that Kennedy had been grappling with alcoholism and, bowing to mounting pressure from within the party, he was forced to resign as party leader. He served in parliament for a further 10 years until he was finally forced to concede his seat as the SNP almost cleared the map north of the border. During his lifetime, Charles Kennedy set an example to which all others, politicians or otherwise, could aspire to – serving his office with a strong sense of duty and an unwavering commitment to his principles. On hearts and minds, in Westminster and across the country, he has made a lasting mark.
Words by Thomas Johnston