Charles Kennedy

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For other people named Charles Kennedy, see Charles Kennedy (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy 2009.jpg
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
In office
9 August 1999 – 7 January 2006
Deputy Ming Campbell
Alan Beith
Preceded by Paddy Ashdown
Succeeded by Ming Campbell
Liberal Democrat Leader of the House of Commons
In office
1 May 1997 – 9 August 1999
Leader Paddy Ashdown
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Alan Beith
President of the Liberal Democrats
In office
1 January 1991 – 31 December 1994
Leader Paddy Ashdown
Preceded by Ian Wrigglesworth
Succeeded by Robert Maclennan
Member of Parliament
for Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Ross, Skye and Inverness West (1997–2005)
Ross, Cromarty and Skye (1983–1997)
In office
9 June 1983 – 30 March 2015
Preceded by Russell Johnston (Inverness)
Hamish Gray (Ross and Cromarty)
Succeeded by Ian Blackford
Personal details
Born Charles Peter Kennedy
(1959-11-25) 25 November 1959 (age 55)
Inverness, Scotland
Political party Social Democratic (before 1988)
Liberal Democrats (1988–present)
Spouse(s) Sarah Gurling (2002–2010)
Alma mater University of Glasgow
Religion Roman Catholicism
Website Official website

Charles Peter Kennedy (born 25 November 1959) is a British Liberal Democrat politician, who led the Liberal Democrats from 9 August 1999 until 7 January 2006. He was a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1983 to 2015, latterly for the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency.

In the 1983 general election, he stood for the Ross, Cromarty & Skye constituency, then held by the Conservative MP and Minister, Hamish Gray. In a shocking result, Kennedy was elected for the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He quickly emerged as a potential party leader. In 1994, after the SDP and Liberal Party had merged, he became President of the Liberal Democrats, a position he held for the next four years. In 1999, after the resignation of Paddy Ashdown, Kennedy was elected party leader.

He took the party through two general elections, during which time they increased their seats in the House of Commons from 46 to 62. There was considerable speculation regarding his alcohol consumption. From December 2005, some within the party were questioning his leadership and calling for a leadership election. On 5 January 2006, Kennedy was informed that ITN would be reporting that he had received treatment for a drinking problem. Kennedy decided to pre-empt the broadcast and admit his condition openly. He called a leadership election at the same time, stating that he intended to stand. The admission of a drinking problem had seriously damaged his standing and twenty-five MPs (nineteen of whom were front bench MPs) signed a statement urging him to resign immediately.[1] As support for him ebbed away, Kennedy resigned as leader on 7 January, saying that he would not be standing in the leadership election. Deputy leader Sir Menzies Campbell took over as interim leader and was elected as leader on 2 March 2006.

Early life[edit]

Born in Inverness and raised as a Roman Catholic, Kennedy was educated at Lochaber High School, in Fort William.[2] .

Kennedy went on to study for a Master of Arts degree in Politics and Philosophy at the University of Glasgow. At university, he became politically active, joining the Social Democrats (SDP), as well as the Dialectic Society.[2]

Kennedy went on to study for a Master of Arts degree in Politics and Philosophy at the University of Glasgow. At university, he became politically active, joining the Social Democrats (SDP), as well as the Dialectic Society.[3] In 1982, Kennedy won the Observer Mace debating competition, speaking with Clark McGinn.[4]

Upon graduation in 1982, he went to work for BBC Scotland as a journalist.[5] He later received a Fulbright Fellowship which allowed him to carry out research at Indiana University in the United States.[6]

Leader of Liberal Democrats[edit]

Kennedy during the 2005 election campaign.

In the 2005 election, the party succeeded in regaining the seat of Ceredigion, its first gain from the Welsh party Plaid Cymru. Overall Kennedy's party achieved a total of 62 seats, their highest number since 1923 with 22% of the overall vote. He heralded the Liberal Democrats as the "national party of the future".[7]

However, this was significantly less than most observers had expected the party to win; just before the election, it had been anticipated by the media and opinion polls that the Liberal Democrats could win up to 100 seats and place them close to the Tories in terms of seats as well as votes.[8]

In the wake of the general election, Kennedy's leadership came under increased criticism from those who felt that the Liberal Democrats could have surged forward, the official opposition Conservative Party being relatively weak. Many pointed the finger of blame at Kennedy for failing to widen the party's appeal. Others, like the former Deputy Chairman of the Federal Liberal Democrat Party, Donnachadh McCarthy, resigned, citing the party's shift to the right of the political spectrum under Kennedy in pursuit of Conservative votes.[9]

In late 2005, speculation surrounding the leadership of the Liberal Democrats was widespread, with the journalist Andrew Neil claiming to speak "on good authority" that Kennedy would announce his resignation at the 2006 spring conference of the Liberal Democrats. Kennedy's spokeswoman denied the report and complained against the BBC, which had broadcast it. After the election of the more moderate David Cameron as Leader of the Conservative Party in December 2005, it was widely reported that senior members of the Liberal Democrats had told Kennedy that he must either "raise his game" or resign.[10]

On 13 December 2005, the BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, claimed that there were briefings against the leader, with members of his party unhappy at what they saw as 'lack of leadership' from Kennedy. A "Kennedy Must Go" petition was started by The Liberal magazine (a publication with no affiliation to the Liberal Democrats) and allegedly had been signed by over 3,300 party members including 386 local councillors and two MPs by the end of 2005.[11] A round-robin letter signed by Liberal Democrat MPs rejecting his leadership received 23 signatures.[12]

In 2004, The Times published an apology over a report it had made stating Kennedy had not taken part in that year's budget debate due to excessive drinking.[13]

On 6 January 2006, Kennedy was informed that ITN would be reporting that he had received treatment for alcoholism. He called a sudden news conference to make a personal statement confirming the story. He stated that over the past eighteen months he had been coming to terms with a drinking problem, but has sought ongoing professional help. He told reporters that recent questions among his colleagues about his suitability as leader were partly as a result of the drinking problem but stated that he had been dry for the past two months and would be calling a leadership contest to resolve the issues surrounding his authority once and for all.[14][15]

It was later claimed that the source for ITN's story was his former press secretary turned ITV News correspondent, Daisy McAndrew.[16]

Resignation and backbenches[edit]

At 3 p.m. on 7 January, Kennedy called a press conference where he announced that whilst he was buoyed by the supportive messages he had received from grassroot members, he felt that he could not continue because of the lack of confidence of the parliamentary party. He said he would not be a candidate in the leadership election, and that he would stand down as leader "with immediate effect", with Menzies Campbell acting as interim leader until a new leader was elected. He also confirmed in his resignation speech that he did not expect to remain on the Liberal Democrat Frontbench Team and pledged his loyalty to a new leader "as a backbench" MP, but he wished to remain active in the party and politics. His leadership lasted slightly less than six years and five months.[17]

Campbell went on to win the resulting leadership election and Kennedy subsequently gave his successor full public support.[18]

Following his resignation, Kennedy's first major political activity was to campaign in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, which the Liberal Democrats went on to win, taking a seat from Labour.[19]

On 22 June 2006, Kennedy made his first appearance in the national media after stepping down when he appeared on the BBC's Question Time. One of the questions on the show was about his possible return as leader, which he declined to rule out.[20]

On 4 August 2006, Kennedy hosted a documentary on Channel 4 about what he saw as the increasing disenchantment felt by voters towards the main parties in British politics due to their hesitation to discuss the big issues, especially at election time, and the ruthless targeting of swing-voters in key constituencies at the expense of the majority. He also contributed an article covering the same issues to The Guardian's Comment Is Free section.[21]

On 29 August 2006, The Times began serialising a biography of Kennedy, by journalist Greg Hurst. The book claimed that senior Liberal Democrats, including the subsequent leader Sir Menzies Campbell, knew of Kennedy's drinking problem when he was elected leader in 1999 and subsequently kept it hidden from the public.[22][23][24]

After Campbell resigned as Liberal Democrat leader on 15 October 2007, Kennedy said that it was "highly unlikely" that he would try to return as party leader, but he did not rule it out completely.[25]

Conservative-Lib Dem coalition[edit]

In the May 2010 General Election, Kennedy was re-elected to parliament with a majority of 13,070.[26][27]

Kennedy specified he had voted against the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition "when it was presented to Liberal Democrat parliamentarians" and that he "did not subscribe to the view that remaining in opposition ourselves, while extending responsible 'confidence and supply' requirements to a minority Tory administration, was tantamount to a 'do nothing' response". Finally, Kennedy warned of the risks of "a subsequent assimilation within the Conservative fold", adding: "David Cameron has been here often before: from the early days of his leadership he was happy to describe himself as a 'liberal Conservative'. And we know he dislikes the term Tory. These ongoing efforts at appropriation are going to have to be watched".[28][29]

The media reported on 21 August 2010 that Kennedy was about to defect from the Liberal Democrats to Labour in protest against his party's role in the coalition government's public spending cuts, but the Liberal Democrats were swift to deny these reports.[30] Kennedy himself denied the rumours in an interview with The Mail on Sunday.[31]

Kennedy played a role in the cross-party Better Together campaign, which was the pro-union campaign for the 2014 Scottish referendum on independence.[32]

Kennedy lost his seat in the 2015 General Election amid UK-wide seat losses for the Liberal Democrats and a surge in support for the Scottish National Party.[33]

Rector of University of Glasgow[edit]

In February 2008, Kennedy was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow[34] and was officially installed, succeeding Mordechai Vanunu, on 10 April 2008. He won the election with a 46% share of vote, supported by not only his own Glasgow University Union but also the Queen Margaret Union and Glasgow University Sports Association. He was re-elected in February 2011, defeating one other candidate, writer A. L. Kennedy, by a clear margin. He served six years as rector until Edward Snowden was elected in February 2014.[35]

Personal life[edit]

In July 2002, Kennedy married Sarah Gurling, the sister of his friend James Gurling.[36]

Reports of Kennedy's ill-health in 2003 at the time of crucial debates on the Iraq War and after the 2004 UK budget (his ill health meant he missed an entire budget speech)[37] and linked rumours of alcoholism, were strenuously denied at the time by both Kennedy and his party.

In April 2005, the launch of his party's manifesto for the 2005 General Election was delayed due to the birth of his first child, with Sir Menzies Campbell taking temporary charge as acting leader and covering Kennedy's campaign duties. During the manifesto launch, on his first day back on the campaign trail after the birth, Kennedy struggled to remember the details of a key policy (replacing the council tax with a local income tax) at an early morning press conference, which he later blamed on a lack of sleep due to his new child.[38][39][40]

In July 2007, Kennedy was informally spoken to by the British Transport Police after he breached the smoking ban in England on a train.[41][42]

On 9 August 2010, it was announced that Kennedy and his wife were to separate.[39] Their divorce was granted on 9 December 2010.[43][44]




  • Hurst, Greg. Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw. Politico's Publishing Ltd (18 September 2006) ISBN 1-84275-176-X


  1. ^ "Defiant Kennedy urged to quit now". BBC News. 6 January 2006. 
  2. ^ a b Wheeler, Brian (9 January 2006). "The Charles Kennedy story". BBC News. 
  3. ^ Wheeler, Brian. "The Charles Kennedy story". BBC NEWS. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  4. ^ "University of Glasgow :: Alumni :: Alumni profiles :: Clark McGinn Profile". Retrieved 17 August 2010. 
  5. ^ "University of Glasgow Story: People: Charles Kennedy". University of Glasgow. Retrieved 27 May 2015. 
  6. ^ MacIntyre, Donald (19 June 1999). "Profile: Charles Kennedy - The liberal party animal". The Independent. 
  7. ^ "Kennedy hails 'party of future'". BBC News. 6 May 2005. 
  8. ^ "Top Ten: Lib Dem 'breakthrough moments'". 24 April 2010. Retrieved 9 December 2010. 
  9. ^ "Donnachad McCarthy: The shameful truth behind the Lib Dems' demise". The Independent. 17 September 2007. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  10. ^ "Anti-Kennedy briefings cowardly". BBC. 14 December 2005. 
  11. ^ "Kennedy hits back over quit call". BBC. 30 December 2005. 
  12. ^ Andrew Pierce (5 January 2006). "No confidence letter from Lib Dems forced Kennedy to brink". The Times (London). 
  13. ^ Claire Cozens (20 October 2004). "Times apologises after Kennedy drink story". The Guardian (London). 
  14. ^ "Kennedy admits battling alcohol". BBC. 5 January 2006. 
  15. ^ "Kennedy calls for leadership election". Liberal Democrats. 5 January 2006. 
  16. ^ "How Chatshow Charlie was left high and dry". Scotland on Sunday. 8 January 2006. 
  17. ^ "Embattled Kennedy quits as leader". BBC. 7 January 2006. 
  18. ^ "Support for new Lib Dems leader". BBC. 2 March 2006. 
  19. ^ "Kennedy joins by-election drive". BBC. 2 February 2006. 
  20. ^ "Kennedy not ruling out his return". BBC. 22 June 2006. 
  21. ^ Kennedy, Charles (4 August 2006). "How we lost people's trust". London: The Guardian. 
  22. ^ Andrew Pierce (29 August 2006). "Conspiracy and cover-up – how Lib Dems hid their leader's alcoholism". The Times (London). 
  23. ^ Greg Hurst (29 August 2006). "You are an alcoholic, aren't you? Yes, he finally replied 29 August 2006". London. 
  24. ^ Gray, Sadie (29 August 2006). "Curse of Kennedy: The former Lib Dem leader must be honest about his return to politics". The Times (London). [dead link]
  25. ^ "Kennedy unlikely to run again". BBC News 17 October 2007. 17 October 2007. 
  26. ^ The Guardian online, “Ross, Skye and Lochaber”, retrieved 2 September 2014.
  27. ^ UK Parliament website “Rt Hon Charles Kennedy MP”, retrieved 2 September 2014.
  28. ^ "Charles Kennedy: Why I couldn't support Clegg's deal with the Tories". London: The Observer. 16 May 2010. 
  29. ^ "Charles Kennedy to be European Movement President". Euromove: The Newsletter of the European Movement. Autumn 2007. pp. 1–2. 
  30. ^ "BBC News – Lib Dems: Charles Kennedy is 'not defecting' to Labour". 21 August 2010. Retrieved 31 August 2010. 
  31. ^ (UKPA) – 22 Aug 2010 (22 August 2010). "The Press Association: Labour 'would welcome Lib Dem MPs'". Retrieved 31 August 2010. [dead link]
  32. ^ Davidsan, Lorraine (6 December 2011). "Parties unite to fight SNP over independence plans". The Times Scotland (London: Times Newspapers Limited). Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  33. ^ "Liberal Democrats wiped out in Highlands and Islands". BBC News. 8 May 2015. 
  34. ^ "Archive of news: Rectorial Election result". 27 February 2008. Retrieved 28 September 2014. 
  35. ^ MacAskill, Ewen (18 February 2014). "Edward Snowden 'humbled' by his election as Glasgow University rector". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 September 2014. 
  36. ^ "In pictures: Charles Kennedy weds". BBC. 20 July 2002. 
  37. ^ Kennedy laughs off health fears 26 March 2004
  38. ^ "Profile: Charles Kennedy". BBC NEWS. 7 January 2006. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  39. ^ a b Wilkes, David (10 August 2010). "Charles Kennedy and wife split after eight years: 'His drinking problem ruined their marriage'". Daily Mail. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  40. ^ Sawer, Patrick (14 August 2010). "Funeral absence hinted at Charles Kennedy marriage split". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  41. ^ AOL, Kennedy 'spoken to over smoking' 6 July 2007[dead link]
  42. ^ "Kennedy caught smoking on train". BBC News. 6 July 2007. Retrieved 7 July 2007. 
  43. ^ "Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy and wife separate". London: The Guardian. 10 August 2010. 
  44. ^ "Charles Kennedy, former Lib Dem leader, divorces wife Sarah". London: Telegraph. 9 December 2010. Retrieved 9 December 2010. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament
for Ross, Cromarty and Skye

Constituency abolished
Member of Parliament
for Ross, Skye and Inverness West

Member of Parliament
for Ross, Skye and Lochaber

Succeeded by
Ian Blackford
Preceded by
Owen Carron
Baby of the House
Succeeded by
Matthew Taylor
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ian Wrigglesworth
President of the Liberal Democrats
Succeeded by
Robert Maclennan
Preceded by
Paddy Ashdown
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Succeeded by
Ming Campbell
Academic offices
Preceded by
Mordechai Vanunu
Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by
Edward Snowden