For­mer UK Lib­eral Demo­crat leader Charles Kennedy dies


Charles Kennedy was a rare thing — a gen­uinely popular Bri­tish politi­cian — and brought his Lib­eral Demo­crat party record suc­cess be­fore his lead­er­ship was cut short by al­co­holism.

His death at 55 brought trib­utes Tues­day from across pol­i­tics and be­yond for a man whose wit and warmth made him stand out from the pack.

For­mer Lib­eral Demo­crat leader Nick Clegg said Kennedy’s death “robs Bri­tain of one of the most gifted politi­cians of his gen­er­a­tion.”

“Charles Kennedy on form, on a good day when he was feel­ing strong and happy, had more po­lit­i­cal tal­ent in his lit­tle fin­ger than the rest of us put to­gether,” Clegg told Sky News.

Kennedy’s fam­ily said in a state- ment that he died Mon­day at his home in the Scot­tish High­lands. They did not re­veal the cause of death and said a post-mortem would be con­ducted. Po­lice said Kennedy’s death did not ap­pear sus­pi­cious.

Nick­named “Chat-show Char­lie,” be­cause of his many tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances, Kennedy was known for gre­gar­i­ous­ness and a light-hearted, com­mon touch. He was elected to Par­lia­ment at 23 in 1983, and suc­ceeded Paddy Ash­down as leader of the cen­ter-left party in 1999.

Un­der his lead­er­ship, the Lib­eral Democrats were the only ma­jor party to op­pose the 2003 U.S.-led in­va­sion of Iraq. Kennedy pre­dicted that the le­gacy of the messy, di­vi­sive war would haunt then-Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair of the Labour Party, say­ing in 2006 that “on the po­lit­i­cal tomb­stone of this prime min­is­ter will be one word — Iraq.”

In the 2005 elec­tion, the Lib­eral Democrats won 62 seats in the House of Com­mons, the party’s best re­sult for 80 years.

Kennedy’s fond­ness for a drink had long been the source of po­lit­i­cal gos­sip. When con­fronted by a tele­vi­sion ex­pose about his drink­ing, Kennedy tried to hold on to the lead­er­ship but failed. He re­signed in 2006.

He was hardly the first Bri­tish politi­cian with an al­co­hol prob­lem. Par­lia­ment’s long hours and sub­si­dized bars have long in­dulged a cul­ture of heavy drink­ing. But Kennedy was among the first pub­licly to ac­knowl­edge al­co­holism.

Kennedy re­mained a popular law­maker and in 2010 he voted against hav­ing the Lib­eral Democrats en­ter a coali­tion gov­ern­ment with David Cameron’s Con­ser­va­tives — to no avail.

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