In full: Lib Dem MPs’ Commons tributes to Kennedy

We’ve already posted the video of the tributes to Charles Kennedy from the Commons on Wednesday and we’ve also posted Nick’s in full. We thought it might be useful to put the text of all five of the Lib Dem tributes, including Nick’s, in one post for ease of reference and posterity. They all did Charles proud. Greg and Mark talked about the way he really connected with ordinary people and about his concern for others. Norman spoke about his unfailing courtesy in his dealings with people, highlighting the need to tackle the stigma around mental ill health and emphasising Charles’ passions for internationalism and social justice. Tim’s emotional tribute spoke about Charles the persuader, how he could change minds and really tug on the heartstrings. Nick’s was just beautiful, and I particularly liked the memory he shared about their fly smoke outside the National Liberal Club where they discussed the Coalition. In years to come, I hope that Charles’ son and those who were close to him find great comfort and pride. To be universally admired in our tribal politics takes some doing.

I guess I should advise that if you are going to read all five of them in one sitting, you will need a cup of tea and a box of tissues.

So, here they all are, starting with:

Greg Mulholland

Charles Kennedy was one of those people everyone remembers meeting for the first time: his distinctive look, his very attractive highland accent, his unusual and warm manner as a politician. I remember meeting him very excitedly as a new prospective parliamentary candidate, and I was touched at how genuine this great figure of liberalism who I was finally getting to meet actually was. He wanted to know how I was and how things were going in Leeds. was very lucky during the 2005 election campaign to have not one but two visits from Charles. The first was to an older people’s residence, Teal Beck Court and Teal Beck House in Otley. The second was a rally at Headingley stadium towards the end of the campaign, when it appeared that I might make the breakthrough for the Liberal Democrats in Leeds. On both occasions, Charles lit up the room when he walked in. At the rally, he inspired people to go out and do that bit more over the last 24 hours to win the seat. But it was the ordinary people, not the party activists, who were particularly touched by Charles and his natural style and the way that he engaged so humbly with the older residents, the hard-working care staff at the home and people at the rugby and cricket ground. Everyone commented, “Isn’t he such a nice bloke?” and they were surprised that a party leader could be such.

I am very proud that I was elected in 2005, with Charles Kennedy as a great leader of my party, in what was the best ever result for the Liberal Democrats—something that we will not forget. I was doubly overjoyed when Charles became a new father, with the joyous news, albeit rather inconveniently timed, of Donald’s birth in the general election campaign. A few months later, I had my first child, my daughter Isabel. Charles and I would meet and chat and, sometimes a little tired from having been up, would talk new-father talk about how we were getting on, and Charles always asked and always cared.

Charles was a truly genuine, warm and humble man, and he always asked how people were and how their family was before he got on to politics. My sincere condolences go to his family and his friends and all who knew him. They are in our thoughts and our prayers, and as has already been expressed, I hope that the genuine outflowing of tributes to Charles is some comfort at this very difficult time. As one of the eight Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament, rather than 62 in 2005, I want to say that we now have the job of restoring the Liberal Democrats to where Charles took us in 2005. That is what Charles would have wanted, and it is what we will work and strive to do.

Mark Williams

It may be too sentimental to describe political parties, some big, some perhaps rather too small these days, as families. We could describe this House as a family perhaps today. Today, this family is mourning one of its finest sons. Much more important than that, our thoughts must first and foremost be with the Kennedy family, as all hon. Members have said throughout this very moving set of tributes to a great man.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), I was immensely proud to be elected in 2005 under the leadership of Charles Kennedy. I was proud to be one of his foot soldiers. I think back to the time when he ceased to be our leader. It was a particularly harrowing time. In later years, some of us still looked to Charles as the leader of our particular brand of Celtic liberalism.

In 2005 I won by just 219 votes. I have often reflected on what the determining factor was. I have no doubt it was Charles Kennedy’s principled and brave stand on Iraq. When I once attributed my win to him, he told me with characteristic modesty, humility and generosity that I was talking utter nonsense. But I was right. His leadership of our party at that time was engaging, inclusive and inspirational. So too, we must not forget, were some of the perhaps not as frequent as we would have liked appearances in this Chamber in recent years. I still think of the doors opening, Charles arriving to sit down there in the corner in one of those flash light suits, glasses perched on the end of his nose. We knew we were in for a treat and that Charles Kennedy was going to say something of significance and importance. How good it was to rush home on a Thursday night to ensure you were there in time for Charles Kennedy on “Question Time”. Charles the great communicator, Charles with his great capacity, as everyone said, to put everyone at ease, including the nervous, new, unexpected MP, as he had been in 1983 and many of us were subsequently—everyone, from every walk of life.

When he came to Wales, whether he was meeting students, health managers or party activists in Ceredigion, or farmers in the mart in Newcastle Emlyn, whether he was canvassing during the by-election at Tredegar or Blaenau Gwent, he had the same effectiveness with people. Those who know their psephology know that there are not many Liberals in Blaenau Gwent or Tredegar,but it did not matter. Charles Kennedy, knocking on doors, would enjoy meeting people, and he left an impression that would stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Charles Kennedy—dignified, compassionate, principled, honest, yet somehow vulnerable. Above all else, as others have said, he was a fully signed-up member of the human race, a rare breed—a politician who was universally liked if not loved.

Norman Lamb

Charles Kennedy was an immense talent, and it says so much about the man that so many Members in this House have spoken about him with such complete genuine warmth. He had the extraordinary ability to reach out beyond the narrow confines of his own party to make genuine friendships with people of other political persuasions and to achieve an extraordinary affinity with people beyond this place, speaking in a language that people understood—not in the language of the Westminster village. That was a remarkable talent not shared by very many people here. I guess, overall, we probably all share this overwhelming emotion, and our hearts go out to young Donald and his family on this day, and that is the most important thing. Our thoughts are very much with them.

I had the privilege of working as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Charles in my first Parliament here, between 2003 and 2005. I saw at close quarters his extraordinary ability, his compassion and his never ceasing courtesy to people. He never lost his temper in dealing with people; he was always polite. He used the power of argument to win his case.

Tragically, he suffered from an illness that afflicts too many people in our country. There is still a stigma attached to mental ill health and addiction, and all of us here and beyond still have a lot to learn about how we combat that stigma and treat the condition as a genuine illness and try to offer help to the individual as much as we possibly can.

There are three things in particular for which I remember Charles. The first one, which defined him among many members of the public, was his courageous stand on the war in Iraq. The Prime Minister was absolutely right to reflect on the strain that he must have been under when he spoke in this House with the massed ranks of the Labour Government and the Conservative Benches against him, but he was steadfast. He knew what he believed. He articulated the case very strongly and effectively and he reached out to our country at a very critical moment in our history.

The second thing that defines him for me was his internationalism. His total commitment to the European cause came not from any narrow economic case but from a belief in the real power of the European Union in bringing countries together, turning its back, as a continent, on conflict, working together, trading together and bringing people together. His politics was about uniting people, not dividing people; that is what made his commitment to the European Union so strong.

Finally, there was his complete commitment to social justice. He challenged injustice wherever he saw it. Everyone will know that the Liberal voice in our country has been diminished as a result of the general election result, but I and the rest of my party must unite together to do everything we can to ensure Charles’s legacy and to rebuild the Liberal voice in our country. I am sure that everyone in this House, whatever their political persuasion, will recognise the force of liberalism and its importance in these Houses of Parliament.

Tim Farron

I was elected to this House on 5 May 2005, and Charles Kennedy was my party leader. In the weeks running up to that election, he was meant to pay a visit to Westmorland and Lonsdale—to the University of Cumbria, Ambleside—but in the event he had a very good excuse for missing that appointment, which was the birth of Donald. I remember the immense pride we felt in having Charles as our leader, and the immense pride he felt in becoming a father.

I won my seat at that election by 267 votes. When a candidate wins by that small amount, everything counts. I am quite sure that the additional publicity of Donald’s birth contributed to the capturing of Westmorland after 96 years of Tory rule.

As the months went by, I did not get a phone call. There were a good number of us and many were appointed to positions in junior shadow ministries and junior junior shadow ministries. Then in September I got the phone call from Charles. He said, “I’m sorry I haven’t given you a job. I just completely forgot about you.” He asked me whether I would like to be the youth affairs spokesperson, which was obviously an entirely natural fit. That was the only time I ever felt forgotten by Charles. A year before that, I lost my mother—she was a year younger than Charles at his passing—after a long and pretty horrific illness. I remember seeing him when I was among dozens of other candidates, and he knew exactly about the situation that I and my family were going through, and he showed immense compassion. He never stopped asking me about the situation. When she passed away, he asked me how I was. That was the measure of the man. He went through some very difficult things in terms of his personal health, but he was always primarily concerned about the wellbeing of others.

Charles was a persuader; he was able to reach people in their gut. People make up their minds on the basis of all sorts of things, but generally speaking we can only move people if we can get them in the gut. He was the only Social Democratic party MP ever to gain his seat in a general election. Four years later, when the SDP and the Liberals merged, he argued on the conference floor against his own leader, David Owen. We could see the faces of people in that hall as they changed their minds. Charles Kennedy had reached into their hearts and turned them.

To my mind, what Charles was so good at was his ability to communicate and get to people, and it was not contrived. People say that Charles Kennedy was human. Yes, he was, but he was not contrived. The first time that I went on, I think, “Any Questions” a few years ago, he gave me a piece of advice. He just said, “Be yourself.” Charles was successful because he was himself. If any hon. Member is ever invited on to “Have I Got News For You”, my advice is, “Say no, unless you want to be made out to be a prat or unless you are Charles Kennedy.”

Charles had a natural ability to communicate with people, because he was absolutely himself. That humanity is one thing; his principle has been spoken of several times, but it cannot be said enough that his stance against the Iraq war seems like the populist and right thing to do today. Twelve years ago, it was not. He was surrounded by people baying at him as though he was somehow Chamberlain or an appeaser of Saddam Hussein, and The Sun had a front-page picture of Charles Kennedy the anti-patriotic rattlesnake. By golly, someone must be doing something right when that happens!

Charles Kennedy was principled and he changed people’s minds, and he was right. He was human; he was principled; and he was effective. He led our party to the largest number of Members of Parliament since

Lloyd George’s day. I suggest that that humanity, that principle and that effectiveness—those three things—are connected. If we want to understand why Charles Kennedy was great, we should realise that it was because he was himself. People say that politicians should have a life outside politics before they become Members of Parliament. Maybe. Charlie was elected at 23. It is hard to argue that he did. The reality is that it is not what you have done, it is who you are, and Charles Kennedy was a very, very special man. Donald, you should be really proud of your daddy. I am proud of your daddy. I loved him to bits. I am proud to call him my friend. God rest you, Charlie.

Nick Clegg

A few days ago I got in touch with Charles because I was looking for a telephone number of someone we both knew. His friends will not be surprised to learn that we were texting each other. He was notoriously bad at actually answering his phone, but famously fluent in SMS. He said he did not have the number on him but he would get back to me this week, because he was spending time with his beloved son, Donald, during his half-term break.

While we all remember Charles as a formidable parliamentarian and a much loved politician, it is worth remembering that he retained his greatest pride and devotion for his family. He lived next door to his parents and, latterly, his brother in his grandfather’s croft house near Fort William, and cared for them through sickness and old age. Much though he was wedded to politics all his life, I think Charles would have wanted to be remembered first as a kind and loving father, brother and son, and as an accomplished politician second. My thoughts and condolences are with all his family—especially Donald—and friends today.

That enduring humanity—people always came before politics for Charles—is reflected in the heartfelt tributes over the past 24 hours paid by so many from outside the world of politics who did not know him directly but somehow still felt that they did know him and could relate to him. He had—and still has—that rare gift for someone in public life: when people think of him, they smile. He saw good in people, even his staunchest political foes, and that always brought out the best in people in return. He was the polar opposite of a cardboard cut-out, points-scoring party politician: brave, yet vulnerable; brilliant, yet flawed. As he would often say about people he admired most, he was a fully signed-up member of the human race.

And he was funny—he was very funny. But his good humour must not obscure the fact that there was a steely courage about him, most memorably on display when he took the principled decision to oppose the Iraq war. Just because that might seem now an obvious thing to have done, it most certainly was not at the time. Charles was often a lone voice in this House, standing up against a consensus on all sides in favour of war. The fact that he was proved so spectacularly right is a tribute to his judgment and his intuitive common sense.

I think Charles would be the first to admit, cheerily, that he was not exactly a details man when it came to policy. He treated the necessary but often tedious detail of policy discussions within the Liberal Democrats with the same attitude he viewed Ben Nevis in his own constituency: something to be admired from afar, but a trial to be endured by others. One of his earliest decisions when he became leader of the Liberal Democrats was to end the long-held convention that the leader of the party should attend all the regular and invariably lengthy meetings of the Liberal Democrat federal policy committee. It was a characteristically wise decision, for which I was for ever grateful during my time as leader.

Again, however, his disregard for the undergrowth of policy making should not obscure his unusually instinctive and deadly serious appreciation of the bigger picture in politics. Whether on Europe, constitutional reform, his arguments against nationalism and the politics of identity, or his lifelong belief in social justice, Charles had a gut instinct about the big challenges and the big choices we faced, not the daily twists and turns and sleights of hand that dominate so much of Westminster politics. He understood, above all, that politics is at its best when it speaks to people’s values in their hearts, and is not just the dry policy debates of the head.

There is so much that I will miss about Charles—his wit, his warmth, his modesty—but I suspect many of us will feel his absence most keenly when our country decides in the next year or two whether we belong, or not, in the European Union, because, of all his convictions, his internationalism endured most strongly. He was a proud highlander, a proud Scot and a man who believed in our community of nations within the United Kingdom, but he was also a lifelong believer that our outward-facing character as a country is best secured by remaining at the heart of Europe rather than retreating elsewhere. As the debate becomes dominated, as it no doubt will, by the noise of statistical claim and counter-claim, I will miss the lyrical clarity of Charles’s belief that our future as an open-hearted and generous-spirited country is at stake and must be defended at all costs.

A couple of years ago, Charles and I found ourselves cowering under the shelter of a parasol on the terrace of the National Liberal Club in the pouring rain, for what he called, “A wee bit of fresh air”—a wonderfully inappropriate euphemism for a quick smoke. We talked at length about the difficulties that the Liberal Democrats were facing within the then coalition Government. It is a measure of the man that, even though he was almost alone in our party in not supporting the decision to enter into coalition in May 2010, there was never a hint of reproach or “I told you so” in the advice he gave to me both then and in other conversations. He remained unstintingly loyal, no matter what the circumstances and no matter how strong the temptation must have been to blow his own trumpet and say that events had proved him right. He was far too subtle for that. He had made his views clear at the outset, but respected in good faith what his party colleagues were seeking to achieve in government and provided support and advice every step of the way, which is why it was no surprise when he said, after being challenged about his loyalties after the 2010 election, and as the Prime Minister has already cited: “I will go out of this world feet first with my Lib Dem membership card in my pocket.”I am just devastated that it has happened so soon.

Our Liberal political family has lost one of its most admired advocates; British politics has lost one of its best storytellers; this House has lost one of its warmest wits and most loyal parliamentarians. If we could all carry ourselves with a little more of the honesty, wisdom and humility of Charles Kennedy, politics would be held in much higher esteem than it is today.

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

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2 Comments

  • Watching them at the time I thought most of our MPs were too political, the best speeches coming from Sir Edward Leigh and a Labour guy I’ve forgotten the name of.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Jun '15 - 4:07pm

    Tim Farron said (above)
    ‘If any hon. Member is ever invited on to “Have I Got News For You”, my advice is, “Say no, unless you want to be made out to be a prat or unless you are Charles Kennedy.” ‘

    A Labour MP said “I have been on Have I Got News For You and obviously I am not Charles Kennedy.”

    The Speaker did not comment at that point.

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