Charles Kennedy – three years on

It’s three years since we woke up to the awful news that Charles Kennedy had died.  Just weeks earlier he had lost his seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber. A few days after that, he wrote this article for us:

I am very fond of political history. If nothing else, we can all reflect on and perhaps tell our grandchildren that we were there on “The night of long sgian dubhs!”

I would very much like to thank my home team. They have been so energetic, dedicated and selfless to the task. Indeed, with them, I would like to thank the very many over the years who have made possible the previous seven successful general election campaigns locally.

I spare a thought for, and this is true of so many constituencies, for members of staff. It is one thing for elected representatives to find themselves at the mercy of the electorate; it is quite something else for the other loyal and skilled people who, sadly, will in due course be searching for employment. I wish them well and stand ready to help. I am sure that their professionalism will stand them in good stead.

It has been the greatest privilege of my adult and public life to have served, for 32 years, as the Member of Parliament for our local Highlands and Islands communities. I would particularly like to thank the generation of voters, and then some, who have put their trust in me to carry out that role and its responsibilities.

Locally, I wish my successor the very best. The next House of Commons will have to finalise the Smith Commission package, giving effect to the referendum “Vow” over further powers. I am saddened not to be involved in that process.

However, from the perspective of the Highlands & Islands, the case for more powers being returned to us which have been lost to the Central Belt over the past five years, has to be heard as well.

On the national picture, I am indeed sorry to learn of Nick’s decision but respect entirely his characteristic sense of personal, political and party principle.

The eligible candidates must reflect with care and collectively before we rush into the best way forward – out of this political debris we must build with thought and care.

Nick, I do hope, will be able to contribute with gusto to the great European debate which is now looming.

It is one, as a Liberal Democrat, in which I wish to be actively engaged myself.

The next few years in politics will come down to a tale of two Unions – the UK and the EU. Despite all the difficult challenges ahead the Liberal Democrat voice must and will be heard.

We did so over Iraq; we can do so again. Let us relish the prospect.

Whether you agreed with him or not, Charles was almost universally loved in the party. Within a month of his ousting as party leader, he turned up in Dunfermline to hep Willie Rennie during his victorious by-election campaign. “We love you, Charlie” shouted a woman in the crowd.

Today’s angry politics sure could do with some of his wit and wisdom. During the horrible Scottish independence referendum, he was one of the few people liked by both sides.

In the Commons, a couple of days after he died, his son Donald watched as people from all over the House paid tribute. Here, courtesy of the Guardian, are some excerpts.

I was gobsmacked when my first election saw someone just a few years older than me elected to the House of Commons in the next door seat. He always seemed more mature than most of his fellow MPs, to be honest.

He taught us that it was ok to take risks when to do so was in accordance with your principles. We opposed the Iraq war on principle and we stood out from the crowd. It was a massive risk to take at the time, but it was the right thing to do. Charles took some grief for his stance at the time – but was completely vindicated.

We were lucky to have him.

What are your memories of Charles?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 2nd Jun '18 - 9:11am

    I only met Charles Kennedy once, in the early 1990s when he and Paddy Ashdown attended a Regional Conference in Leicester. My abiding memory of him on that occasion was his obvious need during a break in proceedings for a nicotine fix. As Caron said, he was a man of principle (witness his stance on the second Iraq War and his willingness in the 1980s to forsake the SDP, which gave him his political start, for the Social and Liberal Democrat’s), who sadly fought his own personal demons, which eventually led to his decline politically. He would not be the first public figure to follow this route; nor will he be the last. As the saying goes: ‘Those whom the Gods love die young’.

  • david becket 2nd Jun '18 - 12:07pm

    I walked with Charles and David Rendel, both missed, round my rural ward in Newbury and his ability to connect with everybody he met (including Tories) was remarkable.

    However the saddest outcome of his untimely death is that, if he had still been alive and leading the fight, we would still be in Europe and the nonsense brought on us by Farage, Johnson and co would not have succeeded.

  • He is the reason I am a Liberal Democrat.

  • David Becket I think you are right about the Charles might have had in the EU referendum. We’ll never know of course, but what the remain camp sorely lacked was a natural popular communicator (like Boris was at that time). He would surely have been one of the Remain team in that big TV debate, where his passion and easy humour could have been devastating.
    One of the main memories I have of Charles is Romsey. This is often forgotten now but, before Iraq, that was the first big example of him taking a risk based on principle, and it paying off. The political debate at that time was getting a bit worrying on the immigration issue. William Hague, out of desperation because he wasn’t making an impact as Tory leader, started talking about ‘illegals’ and made his ‘foreign land’ speech. In the middle of this there came a by election in this very leafy Tory southern seat. Charles decided to make the positive case for immigration a big part of our pitch – and we won. Obviously this wasn’t the only factor, by elections are team efforts etc. But he could have played it safe, ignored the issue and campaigned on some local hospital or something and still won. But he saw this as an opportunity to do something bigger and more important. It said so much about the man.
    I didn’t vote for Charles as leader in 1999. In fact I ranked him 5th out of 5. But I was wrong. He was the best leader we’ve had.

  • Mike Norman 2nd Jun '18 - 4:43pm

    I joined the Liberal Democrats within a week of learning this news. His commitment to the things he cared about were extremely moving.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '18 - 5:04pm

    Charles Kennedy was a successful leader precisely for the reasons we now know – his personal circumstances meant he had to pass on a lot of control to others and so didn’t dominate the party. It was with Charles Kennedy as leader that the party came to be seen very clearly as a team with many skilled members. This broke what was actually quite a serious problem before that (and after it), with the party nationally being seen as just the personal party of The Leader.

  • Charles Kennedy had many qualities, courage, high intelligence, wit, charm and eloquence. Despite his SDP background I would describe him as a “proper Liberal”.

    Sadly, and I mean sadly, he also had a very deep human flaw which was self destructive and would have made it impossible for him to hold high public office. The party, for several years, seemed incapable of dealing with the situation until it reached a crisis point. It was a tragedy but it was self inflicted. There were any lessons to be learned – I hope the party has done so.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?