The surprising death of former Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, this week from suspected alcohol-related illness reminds us of how few politicians of genuine character and integrity we have anymore in the UK.
His death at the young age of only 51 also comes, perhaps bittersweetly, just weeks after the crushing downfall of the Liberal Democrats in the 2015 General Election and the generally bleak sweeping away of Liberal and Left-leaning representation in Parliament.
Kennedy had himself also been voted out of his own seat too, which he had held for almost three decades. For a liberal like me, his sad death is almost a bitter icing on the rancid cake of what is happening to British politics and society. Those broader issues have already been covered at length in this post-election article, so I’ll forego the diatribe here.
Kennedy, who was also entirely open about his drinking problem, always struck me as one of the few trustworthy, principled and honest-seeming figures in the modern political landscape, certainly as far as the more high-profile circles of politicians is concerned. The same was probably true of his predecessor Paddy Ashdown too.
I had in fact been wondering for some time if things might’ve been any different had Kennedy and not Nick Clegg been leader of the Lib Dem party when it went into coalition government in 2010.
It’s a simple ‘what if’ now; something we can never really know.
Like former Labour Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Kennedy was also one of the most vocal and ardent political voices in opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Cook, who resigned from his position in protest of the invasion, was later found dead in the Scottish Highlands (having insisted “Al-Qaeda does not exist”). Kennedy, whose disapproval was more on moral grounds than conspiracy ones, himself perfectly called what the outcome of the Iraq War would be when he challenged the government to answer the question of what it would be that would replace Saddam Hussein once the war was over – a question to which the government had no answer.
And this frontpage in The Sun newspaper is how the pro-war media treated him for his daring to question the grounds for an illegal invasion. It was a perfect example of the right-wing establishment media mocking any kind of moral position or conscientious objection by a politician.
“This is supposed to be a parliamentary democracy,” Kennedy had said. “What we’ve seen is a small clique driving us into a war, disregarding widespread public doubts. That is not acceptable.”
As one of the few honest, out-of-step, political figures in the country, and as an endearing presence in the political landscape, Charles Kennedy will be missed.