Charles Kennedy, former Liberal Democrats leader, dies aged 55

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Right Honorable Charles Kennedy, pictured in 2009
Image: Moniker42.

Charles Kennedy, British former Member of Parliament who once led the Liberal Democrats, has died at age 55. He was found dead on Monday at his home in Fort William, Scotland by his partner, Carole Macdonald.

Kennedy was a Member of Parliament for 32 years, losing his seat in the 2015 general election to the Scottish National Party just under a month ago. He led the Liberal Democrats from 1999 until his resignation in 2006.

Kennedy first became a Member of Parliament in 1983 at age 23, becoming the youngest MP at the time. He was elected to represent the Ross, Cromarty and Skye constituency under the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Through this he helped the party eventually merge with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats in 1988. He took over leadership of the party in 1999, replacing Paddy Ashdown.

During his time as party leader he won praise from critics for his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, which was being pushed through by then British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In the 2005 general election he saw his party record their highest ever electoral result, winning 62 seats. However his success wouldn't last, with Kennedy resigning the following year after going public with his alcohol abuse problem.

Tributes have come from politicians across a number of political parties. The first edition of Prime Minister's Questions since the general election took place in the House of Commons yesterday and many offered their condolences to Kennedy's family. Current Prime Minister David Cameron said "Charles Kennedy played a pivotal role in bringing together two parties — the SDP and the Liberals. As leader he took the Liberal Democrats to the best electoral result for a third party in British politics for nearly 100 years."

Nick Clegg, the outgoing leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Kennedy "would have wanted to be remembered as a kind and loving father, brother and son first; and an accomplished politician second".

Speaker of the House John Bercow said to the House, "Charles Kennedy spent almost his entire adult life as an MP. He was assuredly at home in this place, yet perhaps happiest beyond it. He was a man of deep progressive principle, but a man also blessed with the popular touch. He was a good talker but an even better listener. Above all, and perhaps most strikingly, Charles had the rare ability to reach out to millions of people of all political persuasions and of none across the country who were untouched by and in many cases actively hostile to politics. In this seminal sense, therefore, Charles was the boy next door of British public life — we salute him. We honour his memory and we send today our sincere heartfelt and deepest condolences to his family and his friends."

The SNP's Ian Blackford, who defeated Kennedy in the general election, said "So sorry to hear the dreadful news that Charles Kennedy had passed away. A man of such great ability, such [a] tragedy he has passed away. RIP."

The Liberal Democrats have set up an online condolence book on their website where anyone can post tributes and memories of the former MP.

Kennedy is survived by his partner Carole and 10 year-old son Donald, who he had with his ex-wife, Sarah Gurling. The couple married in 2002 but split in 2010. His mother died in 2013 and his father, Ian, died at the age of 88 in April of this year.