This morning I woke to the sad news that Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader had died, aged just 55.Very sad news.
My admiration for him rose considerably in the light of his protestations over the Iraq War. He was in many ways, a lone voice, crying in the wilderness of Parliament, back in 2003.
I met him with other denominational leaders and representatives at the Foreign Office when I attended the cenotaph service in 2006 and had been in the audience for a couple of Question Time programmes where he was on the panel.
He will remain in the memory, as one of Britain’s great politicians. A man of great political integrity, he stood by his values and convictions and refused to compromise fundamental beliefs for political gain.
I met someone who knew him well when I was sailing in the Hebrides the other year. They said he was a marvellous constituency MP, serving everyone, regardless of political persuasion.
He always came across as a very warm, genuine, generous and committed public servant. He effortlessly connected with ordinary people. He spoke from the heart, with conviction and was such a refreshing change from the manicured, stage managed and spinmeister culture that dominates most politicians today.
I remember watching him on the night he lost his seat and wondered how we would fare, no longer a serving MP. Politics had been his life and the SNP tidal surge had swept him aside and left him adrift from his place of calling and no doubt all the support mechanisms and reason for living that would have kept him going and serving with a purpose in parliament.
He was a remarkable orator and debater and under his leadership, the Liberal Democrats won 62 seats, their best achievement in nearly a hundred years. Were it not for his problem with alcohol he would still be its leader and the party would not have entered the political abyss following their disastrous decision to go into a coalition government with the Conservatives at the 2010 General Election. On principle, he refused to support Nick Clegg’s decision to take the Lib Dems into collation with the Conservatives and warned of the consequences. He described the party’s decision as that of “driving a coach and horses through the great liberal project of re-aligning politics on the centre left”.
My abiding memory of him however was his opposition to the Iraq War. A decision that history will decree was a heroic and right one. He was the only UK political leader who saw and warned of arguably the greatest error in foreign policy we have committed in the last century. The consequences of which have fuelled mayhem, madness and murder on unprecedented scales, causing the deaths of millions of people and creating a bloodbath in the Middle East, a renaissance of religious, fanatical fundamentalism and the rise and growth of global terrorism. These horrors might have been avoided and the world could have been a safer and more just and peaceful a place had Charles Kennedy’s words been heeded:
Of all the tributes that have poured in today, Muriel Gray, the author and broadcaster, who knew him very well, writes beautifully of him: Charles was a thoroughly decent man, witty, clever kind and thoughtful, without the tiniest shard of mendacity. Given the current climate of nasty politics calling him one of our most talented politicians would almost be an insult. He was a talented, altruistic political thinker, not a self interested operator. Most of all a man who always meant well, struggling with a terrible illness. He leaves a huge gap in politics, one he filled with humour, kindness and intelligence.
The memories of a good man are a blessing. May he rest in peace.