The Charles Kennedy Story


Charles Kennedy, centre, with comedian John Cleese, left, and Paddy Ashdown

Charles Kennedy, centre, with comedian John Cleese, left, and Paddy Ashdown

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy led his Birthday Party to their absolute best ever election lead to 2005 But, scuffling with a drink downside, needed to resign a few months later. After his dying At The age of 55, here is a look again On The life and career of one of the crucial influential politicians of his technology.

Once They elected Charles Kennedy as their leader in 1999, the Liberal Democrats knew that they had chosen a “bon viveur” over Rivals with more gravitas But less charisma.

Mr Kennedy was a genial, witty determine Greater Than in a position to conserving his own on tv panel games such as Have I Bought News for You.

His laid-back means contrasted with more earnest, coverage-heavy Rivals comparable to Simon Hughes and Malcolm Bruce. Rivals accused him of laziness – one dubbed him “state of no activity man” in comparison together with his ex-marine predecessor Paddy Ashdown.

However he used to be no light-weight. He had been some of the brightest of his technology, successful a Fulbright scholarship as well as national debating competitions at an early age and was once spoken of as a future chief from his early days.

He used to be known to be keen on a drink – he described himself All Through the leadership contest as an “up front social drinker” – and his declare to be attempting to give up smoking was once already Turning Into a well-recognized chorus.


Charles Kennedy: 1959-2015

Images from Charles Kennedy during his political career

Via Nick Robinson, BBC political editor

Charles Kennedy left a mark on British politics. The Man who took his Birthday Party to its electoral top, he was once the only UK Party leader to warn the united states of the perils of invading Iraq when Labour and the Conservatives have been uniting to enhance it.

He was once additionally the only Liberal Democrat MP who may now not bring himself to vote to Type a coalition with the Conservatives.

However British politics additionally left its mark on him. Elected On The age of just 23, politics and the house of Commons become his existence even as alcohol was his buddy, his prop and his curse.

Learn Nick’s thoughts

John Pienaar’s memories

The Charles Kennedy story

Charles Kennedy’s lifestyles in photos

Charles Kennedy in his personal phrases

Scottish tributes


It was once even advised in 1994 that he failed to take politics critically when he gained £2,000 from a £50 flutter betting that the Lib Dems would take simplest two seats within the European elections.

But Mr Kennedy by no means appeared involved By Using such criticism. He knew he used to be a popular determine amongst ordinary Party individuals – and his blokeish image received him votes from individuals typically became off By politicians.

He also took his politics significantly, had a sharp tactical mind and extensive entrance rank expertise. He was handiest 39 when he become leader – However he had already been an MP for 16 years and had served in a succession of frontbench roles.

Right Here is the story of his existence in politics.

The early years

Charles Kennedy

Mr Kennedy was once born in Inverness and grew up in a far flung crofter’s cottage in the Highlands. He was trained at Lochaber high school – the place at 15 he joined the Labour Birthday Celebration – and Glasgow College.

His father Ian says his son’s perspective in school was: “Do sufficient to get Via with out knocking your pan in.”

This reputation for a laid-back approach to life continued at University, the place his nickname used to be “Taxi Kennedy” for his habit of taking a minicab for the quarter mile ride from the union constructions to his lectures.

However The younger Kennedy additionally had political ambitions, joining the Dialectic Society, a debating society, and Turning Into president of the union in 1980 and becoming a member of the Social Democratic Birthday Celebration (SDP).

He gained an honours stage and a Fulbright scholarship to Indiana University in the usa, where he worked on a thesis on Roy Jenkins (some of the founders of the SDP). He seemed set for a profession in academia – earlier than agreeing to combat the apparently no-hope seat of Ross Cromarty and Skye for the SDP At The 1983 election.

Entering politics

Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy in 1983

Mr Kennedy had thought his possibilities of victory in Ross Cromarty and Skye so slim he had flown again to the usa when the polls closed.

However he unseated govt minister Hamish Gray and – as an alternative of returning to academia – discovered himself thrust into the world of Westminster politics On The smooth age of 23, because the youngest MP.

As he says in his book the way forward for Politics in 2001: “The story begins within the West Highlands of Scotland in November 1959 and that i cannot let you know where it might yet finish. My first visit to London used to be now not unless the age of seventeen; my third consult with was once as a newly elected Member of Parliament in 1983. A Pal put me up, in those first few loopy weeks, in his spare bed room in Hammersmith. I didn’t know the way you got to Hammersmith from Heathrow airport. I had no thought where Hammersmith stood geographically on the subject of Westminster. It was once a quick studying curve.”

David Owen, Charles Kennedy and Robert MacLennan, 1987

Charles Kennedy was once a backer of the SDP-Liberal Celebration merger

To Start With he was SDP spokesman on social safety, Scotland and health and when most of his Celebration merged with the Liberals to Kind the Lib Dems in 1988, he persevered to carry a series of frontbench posts.

He made his first major leap forward in 1990 when he was once elected to the the most important submit of Birthday Party president.

Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy, right, Birthday Celebration president, with leader Paddy Ashdown in 1993

Turning Into chief

Charles Kennedy presenting Have I got News for You in 2002

All The Way Through the Nineties, Mr Kennedy built his profile thru TELEVISION appearances, incomes him the nickname – which he hated – of “Chatshow Charlie”.

In 1999, he beat off 5 competitors to take over as Birthday Party chief, gaining 28,425 votes to 2nd situation Simon Hughes’ 21,833.

He stated he wished to make the Liberal Democrats a Celebration of government, With The Aid Of building its power on native councils and within the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales.

On the national stage, he pledged to Form insurance policies that would enchantment to each Conservative and Labour voters.

Ruin with Labour

Charles Kennedy in 2000

Charles Kennedy At The 2000 Lib Dem conference

Mr Kennedy supported predecessor Paddy Ashdown’s attempts to Form an alliance with the Labour Birthday Party, primarily based around a shared commitment to electoral reform and Europe.

However as soon as he became leader he set about uncoupling the Celebration from Labour, which was now in its New Labour pomp, instead forming dissimilar insurance policies on taxation, the setting and, as Labour’s enthusiasm for the only forex cooled, Europe.

At The 2001 general election the Birthday Party more advantageous its share of the vote to 18.Three%, 1.5% Greater Than in the 1997 election.

Even If smaller than the 25.Four% share the SDP/Liberal Alliance achieved in 1983, the Lib Dems gained a easiest ever 52 seats, when put next with the Alliance’s 23.

Family man

Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy and Sarah Gurling in 2001

Mr Kennedy’s 2002 marriage to Camelot public family members government Sarah Gurling – Party finance chief Lord Razzall was once highest man – was considered By Means Of many within the Birthday Celebration as a sign he was once settling down.

The delivery of his son in 2005 was viewed as an additional sign that the onerous-partying Kennedy – one commentator had dubbed him “Jock the lad” – used to be being reworked right into a Household man.

Charles Kennedy, wife Sarah and baby son Donald

Charles Kennedy, wife Sarah and baby son Donald

Their marriage led to divorce in 2010, with the Day-to-day Mail reporting that it was once “completely amicable” and in a blog posted after Kennedy’s dying his longtime buddy Alastair Campbell describes him as having been “a doting Dad”.

Opposing Iraq

Many assume Kennedy’s most interesting political hour was once his choice to oppose the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

It used to be a decision he had agonised over and he backed British troops as soon as the invasion was once below approach.

But in the run-as much as the Warfare Mr Kennedy changed into the unofficial chief of the anti-Warfare movement – and the main voice of opposition in the Commons as Labour and the opposition Conservatives backed the armed forces action.

Charles Kennedy at anti-war protest

Mr Kennedy On The anti-Warfare protest in Hyde Park, 2003

It was considered By Means Of many as a principled stand that used to be borne out Through events when it turned out the intelligence suggesting Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction had been wrong.

It attracted beef up from Conservative and Labour voters disaffected With The Aid Of their parties’ beef up for the Battle.

Liberal Democrats totally expected to reap the electoral rewards On The 2005 basic election.

Report election consequence

Mr Kennedy fought the 2005 election as “the real Alternative”, attempting to tug off the tough job of appealing to each Labour and Tory voters.

Charles Kennedy, 2005

The Birthday Celebration used to be rewarded with 22% of votes and 62 seats – the perfect tally for a third Birthday Celebration since the outdated Liberal Party days of the Nineteen Twenties.

But there was once a sense of deflation among some MPs – particularly one of the crucial up to date consumption on the appropriate of the Celebration who had been impatient for energy.

The Celebration’s 2005 autumn convention used to be billed as a “celebration” of electoral beneficial properties – But ended with Mr Kennedy fighting to silence rising criticism of his management.

Drink problems

Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy at his Birthday Party’s 2005 convention

Mr Kennedy used to be a well-recognized sight within the bars and golf equipment of Westminster for Greater Than Twenty Years and was known to be fond of a drink.

But whenever he was once requested whether he had an issue, he flatly denied it.

After he turned into the chief, the first time the Query of Mr Kennedy’s ingesting changed into a mainstream issue was once after a 2002 interview with Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman.

“How much do you drink?” Mr Paxman asked. “Relatively, socially, as you smartly be aware of,” was once the reply.

Paxman: “You Do Not drink privately?”

Kennedy: “What do you mean, privately?”

Paxman: “By yourself, a bottle of whisky late at night time?”

Kennedy: “No, I do not, no.”

Mr Kennedy made several more polite But agency denials over The Following Couple Of years, now and again adding a pledge to stop smoking.

In 2004, he stated he had lower down on his consuming and used to be taking more exercise – now it has emerged he was receiving therapy for an alcohol drawback.

Involved colleagues

Despite the general public denials, it seems efforts have been happening at the back of the scenes to encourage Mr Kennedy to withstand his demons.

His non-look for the 2004 Finances speech, when Vince Cable and Sir Menzies Campbell have been reportedly compelled to stand in for him at 15 Minutes discover ended in him having to disclaim his absence used to be drink-associated.

And a perspiring performance At The 2004 spring conference – put down to a abdomen computer virus – also sparked rumours of alcohol abuse.

4 high Birthday Party figures apparently cornered Mr Kennedy in his non-public place of work in 2004, and insisted he well known his drink downside.

In Line With experiences, they succeeded in persuading him to confess his condition, and he commenced receiving “private” medical lend a hand.

Colleagues in the Birthday Party it appears expected Mr Kennedy to face down after the overall election in Could 2005. As It used to be the drinking difficulty most effective raised its head once All Through the campaign.

That used to be when, after a quick paternity depart Damage All The Way Through that campaign, he stumbled in an early morning press conference answering media questions on some coverage small print. He blamed it on an absence of sleep, which any new guardian would possibly settle for, although others put all the way down to his ingesting.

The election used to be a triumph for the Birthday Party and he didn’t resign afterwards, Although the rumours grew when in November he pulled out of a scheduled consult with to Newcastle whereas en route. An look at London Faculty of Economics also apparently needed to curtailed on account of drink, it was later claimed.

Political downfall

Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy arrives at Lib Dem HQ to announce he is resigning

The election of David Cameron as Conservative chief against the end of 2005 – and his subsequent attraction to Lib Dem participants to leap ship – appeared to throw Mr Kennedy’s colleagues into near panic.

They feared the Birthday Celebration lacked direction and dynamism, in comparison with the revitalised Tories.

Senior figures similar to deputy leader Sir Menzies Campbell and Simon Hughes advised Mr Kennedy he had to “carry his game” or face a management problem.

Mr Kennedy would possibly just have weathered the storm had it not been for journalists from ITV Information confronting him with evidence – equipped With The Aid Of senior Party colleagues – that he had bought therapy for alcohol habit.

Within an hour of being confronted with certain allegations, Mr Kennedy made an extraordinary non-public commentary at Celebration headquarters in Westminster, admitting he had a drink problem.

He threw himself on the mercy of the Birthday Celebration membership – amongst whom he has all the time been very popular – asserting a leadership contest he supposed to take part in.

However his gamble failed to repay as frontbench figures broke duvet to claim he should now not take part within the management contest. Greater Than half of of his MPs had been overtly urging him to cease.

Faced with the specter of a mass walkout By his frontbench team Mr Kennedy felt he had no possibility But to resign.

On the backbenches

Kennedy returned to lifestyles on the backbenches for the Lib Dems – the promise of a return to frontline politics as soon as his drink drawback was once overcome, by no means Came to move.

He was a so much lower profile determine at Westminster, However by no means was a type of former leaders who took to criticising their successors in public.

He additionally resisted the urge, which may have been understood after the criticism he took in 2002/3, of “I instructed you sos” about the Iraq Conflict as the years passed.

Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg (left) and former Leader Charles Kennedy chatting during a flight to Glasgow

Charles Kennedy with Celebration chief Nick Clegg Right Through the 2010 election campaign

The Decision of the Celebration to enter coalition with the Conservatives after the 2010 election was once one he was uncomfortable with and he stayed away from any government role.

This intended he spent the earlier few years as a more far-off figure. Making the occasional speech within the Commons and appearances on TV displays reminiscent of a Query Time (Even If a up to date one sparked a recent round of rumours about his health) and This Week.

Election defeat and life after the Commons

The 2015 election was a annoying one for the Lib Dems throughout the united kingdom – and a disastrous one in Scotland as they had been hit By Using their coalition with the Conservatives and the upward push of the SNP after the independence referendum in 2014.

Kennedy was once a kind of who misplaced their seats consequently, swept away Regardless Of him being well known to be a coalition sceptic and having, in Alastair Campbell’s phrases, taken steps to keep away from national Lib Dem figures coming to marketing campaign in his constituency.

After his defeat Kennedy wrote “It has been the greatest privilege of my grownup and public life to have served, for 32 years, as the Member of Parliament for our local Highlands and Islands communities. I’d in particular like to thank the generation of voters, and then some, who have put their belief in me to carry out that function and its responsibilities.”

He stated he was once “saddened” not to be involved in the devolution of contemporary powers to Scotland, However evidently had plans to stay active in politics. Especially, as a passionate pro-European, with the European referendum to come through which he wished “to be actively engaged”.

“The Following Few years in politics will come right down to a tale of two Unions – the united kingdom and the Ecu. Regardless Of all the troublesome challenges in advance the Liberal Democrat voice should and shall be heard. We did so over Iraq; we can accomplish that once more. Let Us take pleasure in the possibility.”


Charles Kennedy appealed to politicians and people throughout the spectrum with tributes pouring in from all guidelines after his dying. The over-driving theme was once respect for his politics and warmth for The Man.

Charles Kennedy, 2005

Former Labour leader Tony Blair known as it a tragedy: “He was once all the way through his time a wonderful, genuine and deeply committed public servant. As chief of the Liberal Democrats, we labored carefully together and he used to be always nice company, with a vigorous and ingenious mind.”

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith stated: “He just had that roughly appear of anyone who did not essentially appear to be that skilled baby-kisser. But The point was most of all… for me and for many others was he was once a just right pal – he used to be a courteous buddy and adversary and always excellent humoured At The most troublesome time.”

Present High Minister David Cameron said: “He was a proficient baby-kisser who has died too young. My ideas are along with his Family.”

Former Lib Dem chief and deputy Prime minister Nick Clegg stated Mr Kennedy’s dying “robs Britain of one of the vital gifted politicians of his era”, while performing Labour leader Harriet Harman stated he “brought courage, wit and humour to everything he did”.

And his lengthy-time buddy, but also opponent over Iraq Battle, Alastair Campbell, mentioned: “He was once great firm, sober or ingesting. He had a nice political mind and a real dedication to public service. He was once not bitter about his ousting as leader. Despite the occasional blip when the drink interfered, he was an important communicator and a wonderful orator. He spoke fluent human, as a result of he had humanity in every vein and each cell.”


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