Local politicians have joined the tributes to Charles Kennedy MP, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats who died yesterday (Monday) at the age of 55.
The announcement this morning, in a short statement from his family, has been met with shock, sadness and an immediate sense of admiration from all sides.
Writing on Twitter, prime minister David Cameron said: “He was a talented politician who has died too young. My thoughts are with his family.”
Gordon Brown, who entered parliament from Scotland with Kennedy in 1983, described him as “one of the greatest debaters, orators and communicators who brought humour to politics.
“Charles Kennedy was a man who effortlessly combined rock-solid principles with a personality that was always open to argument and ready to listen.”
“He was a man who had even greater potential that will now forever remain unfulfilled and his loss will be felt deeply by all of us, particularly those who care about progressive values.”
Kennedy lost his seat Ross, Skye and Lochaber in last month’s General Election, as the Scottish National Party swept the country. He had held it since the age of 23. His campaign had been interrupted by the death of his father, for whom Kennedy was primary carer, shortly before polling day.
Paul Holmes, who served as Liberal Democrat MP for Chesterfield from 2001 to 2010 and knew Kennedy well, recalled a man ready to help anyone.
“He was a great politician, but a truly great human being too,” said Holmes.
“The first time I met him was at the conference in 1988 when the Liberal Party merged with the Social Democrats. It struck me that I was completely unknown, but he took the time to speak to me one-to-one. That’s just who he was.
“He wasn’t like a lot of politicians, there was no pomposity or self-importance. He was genuine, and came across as an ordinary guy.
“I remember when he came to Chesterfield to support my campaign in 2001. The marketplace was jam-packed, shoulder to shoulder, with shop staff hanging out the windows. The atmosphere was amazing. That was the effect he had on people.”
Under Kennedy, the Liberal Democrats made record gains in back-to-back elections of 2001 and 2005. He will be remembered by many from that period for his fierce opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
John Prescott tweeted: “He proved to be right on Iraq. History will be as kind to him as he was to others. A great loss.”
Nick Clegg, a successor in the party leadership, said: “Charles’s untimely death robs Britain of one of the most gifted politicians of his generation.”
“He was one of the most gentle and unflappable politicians I have ever known, yet he was immensely courageous too.”
Kennedy stood down as party leader in 2006, citing health problems and an ongoing battle with alcoholism.
Holmes added: “It is a tragedy, and a great shame that he could never come back at that level.”
Toby Perkins, Labour MP for Chesterfield, said: “Charles was a very generous, amusing and interesting man. He was someone who inspired tremendous respect across the political divide—not just for his contributions to parliament, but for the way he confronted and fought his own demons.
“His death should be seen as a great loss to those of every affiliation and none. It is a loss to the country.”
“We met sometimes around the House of Commons and I was struck by the way, even as a very senior figure, he always had time for junior members, a great sense of patience and interest in other people.”
Julia Cambridge, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Chesterfield and 2015 parliamentary candidate, said: “For me he broke the mould of what a politician was supposed to be and replaced it with a fresh, young, outspoken model.
“His work for the people of his constituency will be his greatest legacy, and I truly believe that is what was important to him politically—helping improve the lives of ordinary people.”
“His own ordinariness belied gifts few of us have—to be ordinary and yet distinguished, quiet yet commanding.
“On losing his seat he was generous in his praise for the people who had helped him, saying: ‘Thank you to the generation of voters, and then some, who put their trust in me.’ Those words may be the best refelection of his humility.
“We did trust Charles. He led the party with compassion, honesty and decency for six years, delivered 62 MPs, spoke out in opposition to the war on terror in Iraq and brought comfort, friendship and genuine help to those who needed a step up.”
Transport minister Patrick McLoughlin, MP for Derbyshire Dales, said: “I was very sad to learn of the news. Over the 29 years we spent in parliament together Charles was kind and courteous, and always with a friendly word to say.
“He was an asset both to his party and to politics as a whole. My thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.”
Kennedy leaves one son, Donald, aged 10, from his marriage to Sarah Gurling. They were divorced in 2010.
His family have requested privacy, with details of the funeral and postmortem to follow. Police are not treating the death as suspicious.