Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw

Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw

Charles Kennedy achieved incredible things for the Lib-Dems. Despite being cast as the lightweight 'Chatshow Charlie' of programmes like 'Have I got News for You', he often seemed far more in touch with the public mood than either of the leader of the governing party or for that matter the official opposition. The Lib-Dems with their 'We Oppose..., We Propose...' poster campaign at the last general election featured Mr Kennedy prominently and in no small measure the public seemed to like what they saw. Against all the odds, the Lib-Dems held Romsey, Winchester, Eastleigh and Portsmouth and significantly increased their vote in Southampton Test just to look at the seats in the vicinity of where I live.
Now former Southampton Daily Echo reporter Greg Hurst has written a book about Charles Kennedy sub-titled A Tragic Flaw revealing not just the desperate state Mr Kennedy's alcoholism left him in but also revealing how senior Lib-Dems suppressed the illness from the electorate.
(Buy the book at http://www.politicos.co.uk/item.jsp?ID=5708 )
Funnily enough I had heard of Kennedy's problems back in 2003 from a Tory Councillor who had a relative who worked in Westminster. This was about the same time Hurst says that Kennedy planned a press conference where he planned to go public with his alcoholism before abandoning the plan at the last moment. I remember thinking at the time that based on his TV performances, it was very unlikely Kennedy was an alcoholic and I dismissed it as just another piece of untrue Westminster gossip- how wrong I was!
Unlike the public at large, I confess that I never much liked Kennedy, I found his manner irritating and some of his policies objectionable but I do feel sorry for him now. With the full glare of the media spotlight upon him, raking over every aspect of his personal life, he is in for a tough few weeks. The pressure on what seems to be a decent enough man fighting the illness of alcoholism and his family will be immense.
The book will also inevitably call into question the judgment of Sir Menzies Campbell and other senior Lib-Dems who not only suppressed the illness from the electorate but also lied directly when asked about Kennedy's ability to be leader. In Hampshire locally, Sandra Gidley and Chris Huhne were only too keen to be seen with Kennedy during the election before dumping him unceremoniously after. A number of my friends have drawn parallels between Kennedy's behaviour and the problems of Mark Oaten but I can't see the connection. I would arge that alcoholism is a disease while the use of prostitutes, albeit male ones to commit acts that are frankly revolting is surely both a lifestyle and a moral choice.
Politics itself is a rough game but on the evidence provided by Greg Hurst, it is a sadness that Mr Kennedy has been failed by both some of his friends and his party. They failed the country and the electorate too.
24 hours on, the press seem to have reached a similar conclusion. Today's Sun was particularly scathing;

Charles Kennedy was offering himself up to the country as a potential Prime Minister.
He was also a secret alcoholic.
While Kennedy drank like a fish, senior Lib Dem figures conspired to hide their leader’s crippling hangovers from the public. Among those who helped con voters at the last General Election was current party leader Sir Menzies “Ming” Campbell. His decision was a terrible error of judgment. Ming and his stooges dreamed up excuses for Kennedy’s absences after nights on the sauce. Now they claim they were protecting his right to privacy. But what about the rights of voters to know a candidate for PM was an alcoholic? Leadership often means making difficult decisions about people close to you. Campbell’s failure to disclose Kennedy’s problem in 2003 raises serious questions about his ability to lead. And confirms what we’ve known for years . . .
The Lib Dems couldn’t organise a drink-up in a brewery.
Or words to that effect.


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