I’ll start by saying I’m not the best placed person to be writing this piece. I know several people who worked for Charles, some for a very long time, and they’d have more of substance to say about the man. Me, I only met the Rt Hon Kennedy a handful of times; usually at Westminster events or Lib Dem conference receptions. On the rare occasions that I did have a chance to chat with him, I found in Charles one of those rare politicians, Alan Johnson is another one who springs to mind, whose charm and humanity manages to cut through all of the usual Westminster bullshit. The best thing I have to say about Charles is that I really liked him and wished I had been given the chance to get to know him better.
Although I do not yet know the exact details of his death as I write this, it is hard not to look at the loss of his seat in the general election, one that Charles had held for 32 years and that he’d first become MP for at the age of 23, as being part of the reason for his passing. I spoke to a friend who worked for Charles a few weeks ago. I said that I hoped that being out of the House of Commons might help Charlie get his life together a bit. My friend did not share my point of view. Politics was his life, and it acted as the one thing that kept a very gifted but troubled man in one piece. I reflect with sadness today on the fact that my optimism was misplaced, or at least that’s what seems to be the case.
Radio 4 had Paddy Ashdown paying tribute to the man this morning, which was fitting. They also played a clip of Charles speaking at an anti-Iraq War rally. This was Charles at his very best; a protest against the war that was vocally neither pacifist nor anti-American; one that cited the horrors of Saddam’s Iraq while still saying that marching in and starting a war from scratch was the wrong move; it reminded many of us of why we joined the Lib Dems in the first place. I have been feeling a little jaded about the party of late. Sad but true, it took the unfortunate passing of one of its great figures to remind me of why the Lib Dems still matter, eight seats or no eight seats. It sounds weird to those who don’t like or get the party, but we’re a family.