In Praise of Charlie Kennedy

by Ray_North on June 2, 2015

Unknown-1In another time and another place, I had the privilege of being allowed to sit in on the Lib-Dem Parliamentary Party meetings – I say privilege without a hint of irony, because this was the 1990’s and the party had the wind in its sails and was relevant, honest and aspirational.

At these meetings, there were, as far as I was concerned, four outstanding politicians – there was Alex Carlile, who brought his powerful advocacy to the table, often as much for devilment to prick the occasional pomposity of others; there was Sir David Steel, who had a lifetime of experience as a Parliamentarian and a canny political operator; there was Paddy Ashdown, before he disappeared up his own cliche, who was a wonderful leader; and there was Charlie Kennedy. Charles would come to the Parliamentary Party meetings, sit on his own and sign his constituency post as the debate about how the party should vote or position itself, raged around him. Eventually, when the need arose, his pink face would light up, he would let out his phlegmy giggle and make a point that was almost always absolutely on the button – he was a political natural; someone who could effortlessly and instinctively spot how ordinary people might feel about an issue; and he was rarely wrong.

I don’t remember him as a big drinker, though I knew he was – but, during the many nights of alcoholic excess which we would indulge in back then, he was either absent or would sit quietly offering the occasional anecdote or one-liner, rather than attempting to boorishly dominate the room as many politicians are want to do.

In some ways I found him enigmatic – I remember asking him outright if he wanted to become leader of the party, and he told me emphatically that he hated the idea of that – I believed him, this wasn’t an evasive, if called upon…. nonsense, I believe that he was a reluctant leader. I also believe that he was a frustrated politician – he was someone who wanted to debate, he wanted to make a difference,he was an MP at 23 when his fire raged and he probably believed that he could accomplish much, but sadly, as the reality of modern politics dawned on him, so did the realisation that odds are stacked against men of integrity.

But when many cash in their principles, he remained true to his – on the Iraq War, he rightly spoke out against invasion and rightly questioned the authenticity of the information that was being placed before Parliament; and on the decision to go into coalition, he was emphatically opposed, and was the only parliamentarian to abstain on the vote – shame on the other fifty odd! He abstained rather than voted against, because he knew that as a former leader, it would have been wrong to have set himself up as an opponent of Nick Clegg and what Clegg was foolhardily attempting to do. I respect him for that.

I respect him a lot.

May history be kind on this good man.

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