Charles Kennedy was found dead on 1 June 2015. He was only 55 years of age. His death was due to complications resulting from alcohol abuse over many years. Much has been written about his addiction to alcohol, with justification. The condition dominated his life for at least 25 years, brought about the breakdown of his marriage and caused him to lie repeatedly about the problem. Those closest to him, family and colleagues, tried to help him but as Kennedy could not help himself, all their efforts were in vain.
However, this tragic flaw which resulted in his premature death should not obscure Kennedy’s career in politics, which began in 1983, with his election to parliament as the SDP member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye. He was just 23 years of age.
Kennedy’s victory in 1983 was a shock. The seat had been held for the Conservatives by Hamish Gray since 1970. Several prominent candidates failed to win seats in 1983, including Menzies Campbell and it was suggested Kennedy felt ‘undeserving’ of his success, which may have sown the first seeds of self-doubt that dogged him throughout his career.
Tipped as a future leader of his party at an early stage, Kennedy supported the merger of the SDP with the Liberal party in 1988. The process caused much turbulence but once the dust had settled, Kennedy emerged with credit. When Paddy Ashdown resigned in 1999, Kennedy was a candidate to succeed him and after several tortuous rounds of voting, he emerged as the victor over Simon Hughes.
Kennedy inherited a financially strong party with 46 MPs, 10 MEPs, 17 MSPs in Edinburgh and six AMs in Cardiff. When he resigned the leadership in 2006 the Lib Dem’s strength in Westminster had risen to 62 MPs and Kennedy was described as the most successful third party leader for more than 80 years.
During Kennedy’s tenure of office, he abandoned the traditional Lib-Lab cooperation and followed an independent route to position his party as the natural party of opposition. He also showed strong conviction when opposing Britain’s planned involvement in the Iraq war in 2003.
But nemesis was near. Rumours of his addiction to alcohol began to leak out and further humiliating public appearances, when drunk, brought matters to a head and he was forced to resign the leadership. As political correspondent at The Times, Greg Hurst reported on the Liberal Democrats throughout Charles Kennedy’s time as leader. He accompanied Kennedy on the election campaigns in 2001 and 2005 and knew him well. This biography is a frank account of Charles Kennedy’s political career that began in triumph and ended in tragedy.