Charlie Kennedy 316


I have known Charlie since about 1979. He was, and always remained, a brilliant, witty and very gentle man. His weaknesses were of the gregarious kind, one of many things we had in common. We first met on the universities debating circuit and in student politics. He became President of Glasgow University Union and I of Dundee University Students Association. As we both ran as Liberal Democrats that was uncommon. By one of life’s quirks, a generation later he was Rector of Glasgow University and I was Rector of Dundee University. We both shared a horror of the marketization of universities and an urgent desire to return to the old Scottish tradition of democratic governance, and we worked together with other Rectors to institute regular Rectors’ meetings and try to make the office of Rector relevant.

Charlie had come under the most enormous pressure not to oppose the Iraq war. The entire force of the British establishment bore down on him, including from former party leaders and from Ming Campbell, though he denies it now. Charlie showed tremendous courage and spirit in resisting the pressures to which almost everybody in authority in the Westminster power structure caved in.

Charlie told me the story of how, as party leader, he was invited by Blair to Downing Street to be shown the original key evidence on Iraqi WMD. Charlie was really worried as he walked there, that there really would be compelling evidence as Blair said, and he would then be unable to maintain the party line against the war. When he saw the actual intelligence on which the dodgy dossier was based, he was astounded. It was incredibly weak and “totally unconvincing”. Blair was not present while Charlie saw the reports, but he saw him afterwards and told Blair he was quite astonished by the paucity of the evidence. Blair went white and looked really rattled, and resorted to a plea for patriotic solidarity. He then reminded Charlie he was not allowed to reveal what he had seen. Charlie felt bound by good faith – he had been shown the intelligence in confidence – not to publish this. Not I think his best moral judgement.

Charlie was very definitely not an enthusiastic supporter of the coalition and, though a federalist not a nationalist, generally kept his distance from the Better Together campaign. He seemed to me to have lost self-confidence through the exposure of his struggles with alcohol, and probably underrated his influence. Charlie was consistent in both his faults and his principles. As President of Glasgow University Union, he was inclined to hands off sybaritism; his expenses and use of taxis became an issue, and that epicurean streak never left him. In his presence I always felt an inferior talent, and those of us who knew him 35 years ago I think all expected him to rise even higher than he did. But he never had the sociopathic streak that makes a dominant political career, and he was at base a very decent and kind man. That is how I shall remember him.


316 thoughts on “Charlie Kennedy

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  • Ba'al Zevul

    So sorry he’s gone. A marvellous constituency MP, and while not a supporter of nationalism, nevertheless a patriot in his way. And principled. Good eulogy, Craig, agree 100%.

  • Guano

    Presumably many other prominent politicians saw the same evidence about Iraq and WMD as Charles Kennedy saw: for example IDS, Osborne, Hague. Yet they continued to tub-thump about “Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction” and now claim that they were misled by Blair. And they didn’t have to give evidence to Chilcot. All very strange.

    I had some contact with Ming Campbell in mid-2002 when he appeared to be one of the few MPs asking questions about Blair’s policy on Bush and Iraq. My impression was of someone completely out of his depth and amateurish. He seemed aware that that Blair was making assertions that were not backed-up by evidence, but seemed incapable of sending out a letter or press-release saying so. I sometimes get him confused with Vince Cable, because they both seem to be too embarrassed to point out that a PM is telling lies.

  • Johnny

    This is merely a question rather than me thinking it is definitely the case, but it has been notable this morning that mentions of Kennedy’s ‘demons’ have been respectful and sympathetic (that’s as it should be, of course). I do not seem to remember this being the case when the media ran large on it and brought about his resignation as leader of the Lib Dems. This has me wondering (and perhaps someone here will know) whether the reason the coverage was so lurid (close-ups of his forehead with sweat etc) was because some politicos and their favourite media men were exacting revenge because he had voted against the Iraq War? I realise some people ‘in the know’ would have been aware of his problems before but this was a nasty, rotten way of bringing that knowledge to ‘the man on the street’ who has other concerns and might not have known.

    It also occurs to me that, had Kennedy not been hounded out, the composition of the coalition government between 2010-2015 could have been very different. So the whole furore between 2003 and his resignation attains a measure of historical significance when we look at where we are now, with all the laws being proposed etc.

  • DoNNyDaRKo

    Nice words Craig !!
    When Charles Kennedy was on the boil he was definitely a force to be reckoned with.
    Unfortunately the last time I watched him on tv , he was sweating profusely and clearly drunk and flummoxed.I can’t remember if it was BBC or some other channel,but I did feel they let the man down.
    May he rest in peace.

  • Bert

    Charles Kennedy met with Blair to discuss the evidence for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction ‘on Privy Council terms, so even if Charles Kennedy had wanted to reveal the ‘paucity of the evidence’ – he couldn’t have! (as he’d sworn the Privy Council oath.

    Read this essay for more info on the Privy Council; an extract:

    The other area which is key to overall secret control outside Parliament is the Privy Council. It is important to note that all main members of the Cabinet become members of the Privy Council as do leaders and sometimes the deputy leaders of the opposition parties.

    The Privy Council oath which all members take means they cannot freely discuss any matter they are informed of or told of “Under Privy Council terms”. This means that the Cabinet and opposition leaders cannot discuss freely in Parliament or elsewhere any matter told to them on “Privy Council terms”. This means in practice that the key MPs cannot discharge their democratic duties. It is in effect a gagging system like Public Interest Immunity Certificates dispensed by Judges on application of Government and its agencies. All senior Judges and Appeal Judges are Privy Councillors as is the Lord Chancellor, The Attorney and Solicitor General and other invited and key persons. This secret unelected body has a wide range of powers. On the surface other permanent secretaries, sometimes the Cabinet Secretary and certain members of the established aristocracy are Privy Councillors.

  • John Goss

    Amazing coincidences in your university extra-curricular lives. A fitting and well-considered tribute to the esteem in which you clearly held him. Some people are not cut out for politics. Sad. And only 55.

  • Geoffrey

    Very sad. Good man.
    Interesting point,Craig, about the evidence that Blair showed him in order to get him to support the war on Iraq.
    I remember well Iain Duncan Smith saying that he had seen the evidence against Iraq and that it was compelling,but that he was not at liberty to divulge it. I have always wondered whether he was a liar,and was participating in Blair’s lie or whether Blair lied to him.
    From what Charles Robertson said to you it seems that IDS lied of his own free will on behalf of Blair,and can not claim to have been misled by Blair.
    It’s surprisng he is still active in politics.

  • paul

    I considered a pissed Kennedy to be infinitely prefereable to his vapid, hack assasins.
    Clegg wasn’t fit to hold his coat, which is why he ended up holding Cameron’s.

  • John Goss

    Thanks for that contribution Bert regarding the Privy Council. It occurs to me that some MPs (including Dominic Grieve) will know a great deal of the truth about the death of Dr. David Kelly which the rest of us will have to wait another 65 years to know thanks to Lord Hutton. The whole lot of them are tainted by these non-disclosure restrictions.

    “Not I think his best moral judgement.” There speaks honesty, but political parties are rather short on that commodity.

  • Maria

    Thought’s and prayers for his family. Alcoholism is an awful thing for the person and loved ones!

  • Salford Lad

    Go raibh Dia ar a hAnam. Bless his name. A good man and true always to his political principles.
    No doubt the character assassination later was payback by the Establishment for his principled and brave solitary stand against the Iraq war. Such men are rare.

  • Macky

    Best leader the LIbDems ever had; his opposition to the attack on Iraq was a bright beacon of hope, yet his total support for the illegal war that he knew was a sham, once British troops started shooting, was as surprising as it was disappointing.

  • Mary

    A beautiful tribute Craig. Very sad for his son and family members.

    RIP Charles Kennedy and David Kelly.

    Blair can rot in hell. Campbell, a smooth tongued opportunist. Never believed a word he said.

  • bookie from hell

    Pity Chilcot still to be published

    Charles Kennedy would of come out,smelling of roses

  • Guano

    In the Guardian’s analysis article about Kennedy’s “two momentous stands” it says:-

    “The Lib Dems’ opposition to the Iraq war, which led to much soul-searching by the party and an intense debate about whether it would be appropriate for the leader of Britain’s third party to appear on an anti-war platform, helped lay the ground for a breakthrough in the 2005 general election.”

    Yet very few people wonder whether it was appropriate for Blair to make commitments to Bush (even when the Attorney general has warned him not to). But a prominent politician appearing on an anti-war platform might be inappropriate. The rules of the establishment are very strange.

  • Dreoilin

    Very sad news. RIP Charles Kennedy. I only knew him from the TV, but always liked him and thought he was a man of principle. Nice piece from you, Craig.

  • Tom

    Sad news. I remember him from his days on London radio shows.
    It always struck me as strange how he was deposed as LibDem leader after what amounted to a smear campaign.
    Am I reading too much into it all to wonder about a third highly principled Scot to die suddenly, after John Smith and Robin Cook?

  • Clydebuilt

    Well written thoughtful tribute to a decent man! Radio Scotland has been incessant in it’s coverage of Charles. Not even stopping during the news bulletins for a break. Started at 6am thru to 10am. Feeling guilty for the SNP victory, that’s what they’re after.

    O/T. In today’s Herald Peter Mullan has a right go at the BBC….”BBC Bias during The Referendum Broke My Heart “

  • Old Mark

    An honest and heartfelt eulogy,much better than some of the guff issuing from the mouths of our political establishment.

    Paddy Ashdowns’ tribute includes the following –

    ‘but we all have our demons, all of us do, none of us are free of them…’

    Yes, but these ‘demons’ are not always exposed to the glare of media attention in the same way as Charles Kennedy’s were- he paid a terrible price for opposing the Iraq adventure in 2003, and subsequently winning a record number of seats for his party in 2005 as a result.

  • giyane

    Thank you for a sober review of a principled man.

    Only a very few daft people in Westminster ever believed Blair’s lies about Iraq because they belonged to a group of nutters who play the game of party politics.

    We should never forget that blog trolls are the tip of the iceberg so far as establishment skullduggery go. Anyone body who seeks truth is interfered with. If Charles Kennedy had coping mechanisms for this truth-hating skullduggery, so do I, and the estblishment lackeys in the mosques get fed information about my weaknesses.

    There is no better testament to a man’s honesty than the lengths of dirty tricks the establishment and its stooges will go to to blacken the name of a seeker after truth.
    Charles Kennedy, rest in peace.

  • S Paterson

    Such sad news today with the loss of a giant of a politician and a humble man of the people.

    Thoughts and prayers for his family and friends and in particular his 10 year old son who seems to have lost his daddy and grandfather within a short few weeks. Tragic.

    RIP Charles.

  • Clydebuilt

    one tribute I haven’t heard on BBC Radio Scotland is Ming Campbell’s. Aye Charlie’s old pal

  • Neil murray

    Very well written craig, have had numerous comments down here in ‘middle england’ and the overiding comment has been he was far too honest a person to be a politician, unlike the majority.

  • fedup

    Having met this gentle decent man, I am deeply saddened by his loss. He could have changed the face of the politics in UK hence the witch hunt to out him ad an alcoholic (fact that another alcoholic had fought a WW no less was not taken account of), post which the long knives of Ming Campbell et al saw to it that he fell and with him the prospects of any change to the sordid arrangement leading to the current mess.

    RIP Charlie, and my deepest sympathies to his family.

  • eddie-g

    Never met him, but am proud to say I voted Lib Dem while he was leader.

    For all his demons, when it came to the big decisions his political judgment was very acute. Right obviously about the Iraq War, and right too about the coalition government.

    A desperately sad, premature death, and he left a vacuum in the Lib Dems that the party may never fill.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Just too British with the public finding nothing suspicious of the great man suddenly dying at age 55 after his whole public life lay in ruins.

    At least his ordeal is over, and one can only hope that he now finds peace.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Obviously, Blair got in with his tribute four hours ago, on The Office Of The Dear Leader website. Find your own link. I wouldn’t sully my keyboard finger with it.

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