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Warm tributes to Charles Kennedy

Published 02/06/2015

Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy was an MP for more than 30 years
Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy was an MP for more than 30 years

Warm tributes have poured in from across the political spectrum to former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, whose death at the age of 55 has shocked Westminster.

Mr Kennedy had served as an MP for 32 years, but was ousted from his Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency last month as the SNP swept the board north of the border in the general election.

Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Mr Kennedy's death "robs Britain of one of the most gifted politicians of his generation", while Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "deeply saddened" by the loss of a man he described as "a talented politician who has died too young".

Police were called out to Mr Kennedy's home in Fort William yesterday, after being alerted by the ambulance service. It is understood that the politician's body was found in the house by a friend. The cause of his death is not yet known but it is not thought by police to be suspicious.

His death was announced "with great sadness, and an enormous sense of shock" in a statement by his family, who said they were "devastated".

"Charles was a fine man, a talented politician and a loving father to his young son. We ask therefore that the privacy of his family is respected in the coming days," said the family statement.

"There will be a post-mortem and we will issue a further statement when funeral arrangements are made."

Mr Kennedy's political career began in the Social Democratic Party, winning the Ross, Cromarty and Skye seat in 1983 to become the youngest MP of the time at the age of 23.

His leadership of the Lib Dems from 1999-2006 was marked by his staunch opposition to the war in Iraq, which helped the party achieve its greatest electoral success, winning 62 seats in 2005,

But just months after the election, Mr Kennedy's leadership was brought to an abrupt end when he dramatically admitted that he had been receiving treatment for an alcohol problem. Although he initially declared his intention to stand in a leadership contest, he was forced to stand down in the face of the threat of resignations by senior colleagues.

He never returned to the Lib Dem frontbenches, but remained a popular figure in Westminster, and was one of only a handful of the party's MPs not to vote in favour of coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.

Mr Kennedy was divorced in 2010 from wife Sarah, with whom he has a 10-year-old son, Donald. The loss of his Westminster seat came after an election campaign during which Mr Kennedy was forced to take a break following the death of his 88-year-old father, Ian, in April.

Former Labour director of communications Alastair Campbell said there were concerns for Mr Kennedy following the loss of his seat.

"We were all a bit worried about him after the election," said Mr Campbell, a close friend of the former Lib Dem leader. "On the night the exit poll made it clear his safe seat was gone, 'Is Charles OK?' became an inquiry of a very different nature. Representing the people of Ross, Skye and Lochaber meant so much to him."

Writing in his blog, Mr Campbell revealed that after his election defeat, Mr Kennedy had sent him a text asking "Fancy starting a new Scottish left-leaning party? I joke not."

"He said in some ways he was glad to be out of it," said Mr Campbell. "I am not totally sure I believed him, but he had plenty of ideas of how he would spend his time, how he would make a living, and, most important, how he would continue to contribute to political ideas and political life."

Mr Campbell described Mr Kennedy as "a terrific communicator and a fine orator (who) spoke fluent human, because he had humanity in every vein and every cell", adding: "He was a very good friend. I just wish that we, his friends, had been able to help him more, and that he was still with us today, adding a bit of light to an increasingly gloomy political landscape."

Mr Clegg told Sky News: "In my view, Charles Kennedy on form, on a good day when he was feeling strong and happy, had more political talent in his little finger than the rest of us put together.

"That's why everyone felt, still of course feels today, that it was so tragic to see someone with such huge gifts should also struggle, as many people do, with the demons that clearly beset him and the problems that he acknowledged he had with alcohol."

Mr Kennedy's predecessor, Lord Ashdown told ITV1's Good Morning Britain: "We all have our demons ... but Charles rose above those and on form he was the very best of us."

And Sir Menzies Campbell, who served as Mr Kennedy's deputy leader and foreign affairs spokesman during the Iraq War and succeeded him as Liberal Democrat leader in 2006, said: "At a time when politicians are accused of being out of touch with the public, that charge could never be levelled against Charles Kennedy.

"He had the articulate ability to express important political issues in a style which everyone could recognise and with a simplicity that made them much easier to understand."

Former Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott said: "If he had had not had a drink problem, he would be the leader of the Liberal Democrats today, and the Liberal Democrats would be in a far, far stronger position.

"It was drink that got him. Terribly, terribly sad. But it is a terrible disease. I last saw him on a bus a few weeks before the election coming in. And we had a very good chat. But he clearly wasn't at all well."

Labour ex-prime minister Tony Blair, who took the country to war in 2003, said he was "very saddened" by his former opponent's death, which he described as an "absolute tragedy".

"He was throughout his time a lovely, genuine and deeply committed public servant," said Mr Blair. "As leader of the Liberal Democrats, we worked closely together and he was always great company, with a lively and inventive mind."

Mr Blair's deputy prime minister, Lord Prescott, added his tribute, saying: "He proved to be right on Iraq. History will be as kind to him as he was to others. A great loss."

Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith, Tory leader at the outbreak of the Iraq War, said Mr Kennedy was always "kind and courteous, even when we disagreed".

Lib Dem leadership contender Norman Lamb, who served as Mr Kennedy's parliamentary private secretary during his time at the head of the party, said: "This is an untimely death and a really tragic loss of a lovely and immensely talented man - one of the most talented politicians of his age."

Mr Lamb's leadership rival Tim Farron said: "Charles was a friend, colleague and personal mentor. I am desperately saddened by news of his death this morning."

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "Charles devoted his life to serving Scotland and his beloved Highlands. His passion for making our country a better place to live is his lasting legacy. I am proud to have known Charles Kennedy and our country today is the poorer for his passing."

MPs are to have an opportunity to pay their tributes to Mr Kennedy in the House of Commons in a dedicated session immediately after Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Speaker John Bercow has said.

Liberal Democrat John Hemming, who lost his seat as a Birmingham MP in May, added: "He will be always remembered for his commitment to international law. If we had followed his advice on the war in Iraq the Middle East would not be in as big a mess as it is now."

The Lib Dems have opened an online "book of condolence" where anyone can leave messages via its website.

In an email encouraging supporters to share their thoughts about Mr Kennedy, Mr Clegg wrote: " Perhaps you met him, worked or campaigned alongside him, or maybe you simply have memories of the great things he said and did.

"I personally valued his kindness, humour and generosity, and I know that our country will be the poorer without his courage and wisdom.

"If you wish to leave a message, it will be forwarded to Charles's family, or you can just add your name if you prefer."

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