Charles Kennedy: A Tribute

The terribly sad news that their former leader Charles Kennedy has died at the age of just 55, will hit Liberal Democrats particularly hard today.

Charles was a leader who holds a very special place in the heart of party activists, MPs, peers and all those now former MPs who were elected under his leadership.

I had the huge privilege of working with Charles in the 2005 general election, setting up campaigning visits for him in battleground seats for him all around the country. Whether he was meeting market stall traders in Durham or surgery patients in Southampton, his warmth, charm and good humour made him a real pleasure to work with and gave him an instant connection with people from all walks of life. He was exactly the right leader for the party at that time. With his much more laid back approach, compared to the military mind set of his predecessor, Paddy Ashdown, he gave the party an opportunity to grow in confidence and stature and achieve some of its best ever results at local government and parliamentary level.

His laid back approach did not have suited all of his parliamentary colleagues. I recall one MP rolling her eyes on hearing that he was spending an evening watching a film whilst she was frantically campaigning to save her seat. There was also huge frustration amongst those who worked closely with him as he struggled with alcohol. It was the unanswered media question that hovered in the background throughout the 2005 campaign. I recall one visit through a university student union building that had to be carefully mapped out to avoid going anywhere near the bar and the risk of a picture of him with a drink in his hand appearing in the press. However, it was his laid back approach to life that also defined his liberalism. It was about tolerance, celebrating diversity, creating freedoms for people to express themselves rather than creating new laws to repress them.

For many the defining moment was when he took the decision, under huge pressure from those on both sides of the debate, to lead the Liberal Democrats on the march against the Iraq war. Opposition party leaders were normally expected to loyally and routinely support the government of the day as it prepares for military conflict. The stand that Charles Kennedy took then has probably permanently changed the way that our nation thinks about going to war. For that, and for his vision of laid back liberalism, I will always be grateful.

WATCH: Steven Gauge on Sky News paying tribute to Charles Kennedy


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