Tuesday 25 October 2016

Westminster shocked at death of Lib Dem Kennedy

Paul Raymonde in London

Published 03/06/2015 | 02:30

Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy pictured in 2006. Photo: Reuters
Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy pictured in 2006. Photo: Reuters

Tributes from across the UK political spectrum have been paid to former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, whose death at the age of 55 has shocked Westminster.

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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 and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said Mr Kennedy’s death “robs Britain of one of the most gifted politicians of his generation”, while acting Labour leader Harriet Harman said he “brought courage, wit and humour to everything he did”.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I’m deeply saddened by the death of Charles Kennedy. He was a talented politician who has died too young. My thoughts are with his family.”

Mr Kennedy’s leadership of the Lib Dems, which saw the party enjoy its greatest electoral success by winning 62 seats in 2005, was marked by his staunch opposition to the war in Iraq.

Labour ex-prime minister Tony Blair, who took the country to war in 2003, described his former opponent’s death as an “absolute tragedy”.

Mr Blair said: “He came into parliament at the same time as me in 1983. He was throughout his time a lovely, genuine and deeply committed public servant.

“As leader of the Liberal Democrats, we worked closely together and he was always great company, with a lively and inventive mind. I am very saddened indeed by this news.”

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

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.”

Mr Kennedy’s leadership of the Lib Dems ended in 2006 after he admitted having a problem with alcohol.

Mr Kennedy led the party in the elections of 2001 and 2005 to their highest number of seats since 1923, and on the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 momentarily seemed in with a chance of forming a government; yet his six years as leader were overshadowed by criticism of his work rate, and rumours of a drink problem which – when confirmed – forced him out in January 2006.

Succeeding Paddy Ashdown, whose closeness to Labour he had criticised, in 1999, Mr

Kennedy repositioned the Lib Dems as the radical alternative to a struggling Tory opposition.

Mr Kennedy scented power in February 2003 as George W Bush prepared to invade Iraq.

He spoke strongly against an invasion, and with many Labour MPs as opposed there was a chance Mr Blair would suffer a moral, if not numerical, defeat in the crucial debate.

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