Members of the SLF Council share their tributes to Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy was leader when I joined the Party as a student at Leeds University. David Hall-Matthews, a former Chair of the Social Liberal Forum, was the Leeds North West candidate in the 2001 General Election, and so I was fortunate to meet Charles when he came to a dinner in the constituency. He was very late - something about a delayed train - but all I really remember was his warmth and the ease with which he connected with everyone, from the new student members, to those who had been involved for decades. He made me want to campaign.
He stood for kindly liberalism. He urged us to consider the young, the elderly, the vulnerable. He was caring and empathetic, and had the integrity and strategic judgement that most politicians seem to lack. His chat show appearances were a shrewd tactical move, keeping the Liberal Democrat name in the media at a time when few journalists gave us column inches. He connected with viewers as easily as he connected with those he met in person, because he was kind and principled - never disingenuous.
- Naomi Smith
Absolutely appalling news about Charles Kennedy's death. A man who at his best not only connected with the public in an exceptionally rare way but in politics did his best to do the right thing (not least by appointing to the House of Lords campaigners like Tony Greaves and Jenny Tonge who lesser leaders would never have honoured). Despite huge pressure on him not to do so, his stand with the people over Iraq should never be forgotten.
I mostly encountered Charles over the years across the table at meetings of the Federal Policy Committee. Very rarely angry, he once told of his despair at his advisors telling him he needed to be angry and shouty in key platform speeches. He just felt incapable of doing it. My first meeting was possibly the most vitriolic; held at the height of Paddy Ashdown's dalliances with Tony Blair, Charles was a voice of calm in an otherwise vituperative session; at the end, Paddy took Charles' last cigarette while angrily telling everyone else they needed to calm down. Charles did as instructed. He was, like all humans flawed but absolutely, in his own words, "a fully paid-up member of the human race". While some of those around him exploited that from time to time, so did his party colleagues at times, sadly.
The two things that motivated him above all else - his beautiful constituency and the European cause - should have seen him back at centre stage, making a significant contribution. Politics and all of us who knew him will be the poorer for us not having the benefit of that. My last conversation with him was at Glasgow around the fringes of the press office, over tea in a polystyrene cup, waiting to be interviewed. My last words to him were: "It's great to have you back". How wrong I was.
- Gareth Epps
For me Charles will always remain a fellow founder member of the SDP who had the vision to form the SDP/Liberal Alliance and the one who transformed our Party from a fringe group to a serious political force as the Liberal Democrats. We owe our success in 2010 and subsequent role in government to the foundations on which Charles built our party of Freedom and Social Justice. I remain very grateful to him for asking me to chair the first ever Race Equality Task Force within the Party and launching the Race, Diversity and the Party document in the House of Commons. I remain a Liberal Democrat today because Charles convinced me that it is the only UK Party that will always put the people first. That is the one Charles Kennedy legacy we should all cherish. At a personal level I can honestly say he was the most kind and sincere politician I have ever known.
- Rabi Martins
- Mark Blackburn
My favourite memory of Charles is the time when his life and ambitions were coming together. He and I spent an evening in his Westminster flat at the start of his leadership election campaign - to the surprise of some old friends, I had come to the conclusion some time before that he would be the best choice to succeed Paddy. What was most striking was Charles' delight in the idea of getting married, settling down and looking towards a family. I had very strongly the impression of someone who felt his life was coming to fruition and achievement in the ways that were most important to him and after a long apprenticeship.
Charles is (so far) the only Leadership candidate I have ever backed who was successfully elected going back to attempts to persuade Richard Wainwright to challenge Jeremy Thorpe for the role. In this case, I still think I was right!
- Gordon Lishman