• STV
  • MySTV

Ponsonby: Remembering that cheeky chappy Charles Kennedy 

Bernard Ponsonby first met the former Liberal Democrats leader in 1984.

Charles Kennedy spent a lifetime in politics.
Charles Kennedy spent a lifetime in politics. SWNS

Charles Kennedy's death more than four years ago had an eerie echo in the passing 21 years previously of the late Labour leader John Smith.

Both men were Highlanders, Glasgow University debaters, MPs, party leaders and both died at 55. The parallels were as shocking as they were striking.

As a student, Kennedy honed his politics and debating skills in the unforgiving world of the university union. He enjoyed a reputation as a speaker who was both articulate and charming, rarely descending to personal abuse and all practised with a dedicated bon homie that would carry on post debate in the university bars.

Glasgow Hillhead 1982, dubbed the by-election of the century following the death of the sitting Conservative MP, T G D Galbraith. Roy Jenkins won it for the newly created SDP. By then the young Kennedy had become a disciple of those seeking to break the mould of politics. He did just that a year later, winning Ross and Cromarty from the Tories. He was an MP at 23.

His early contributions gave the political world characteristics with which they were to become familiar. Kennedy framed arguments in a common sense, non-doctrinaire way. He diffused argument with a use of humour and all done with a cheeky chappy twinkle in the eye.

He was the man who broke rank with David Owen to back a merger of the SDP and Liberals in 1988, eventually succeeding Paddy Ashdown as leader of the Liberal Democrats in 1999.

His politics were left of centre, his commitment to social justice absolute, his Europeanism heartfelt and his liberalism rooted in the Highland tradition. He was popular, an elected figure who almost appeared too normal and unaffected to be a politician.

Kennedy campaigning during the independence referendum.
Kennedy campaigning during the independence referendum. © HEMEDIA / SWNS Group

This view was buttressed with his media profile. 'Chat show Charlie' was to be found on programmes a world away from the dry debates of the political classes.

He married Sarah Gurling in 2002 and became a father in 2005, but the marriage was dissolved in 2010.

He led for two general elections, hitting a high of 62 seats in 2005. But by then there was talk of a drink problem after a series of late and sometimes no-shows for key party and parliamentary events. The private demons could no longer be masked by the public face. He resigned the leadership in 2006 to seek help.

The eventual honesty and palpable vulnerability of this classless man didn't finish him. There was no public resentment towards someone who connected in a way few could. Kennedy was judged differently, it was the mark of the affection in which he was held.

His party entered government in 2010 with the Conservatives. He was a coalition sceptic as much of the policy sat uneasily with his social democratic values.

Although still relatively young he took on the mantle of elder statesman, campaigning in the independence referendum and fighting the 2015 general election when he too was swept overboard by the SNP tidal wave.

Charles Peter Kennedy, social and liberal democrat, public servant, wit, Scot, Highlander, and as the world of politics and beyond has been recalling in the week of what would have been his 60th birthday, a good man whose many attributes defined his fundamental decency.

Download: The STV News app is Scotland's favourite and is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from Google Play. Download it today and continue to enjoy STV News wherever you are.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check. That e-mail's already in our system. Please try again.
ShowHide
Forgot password?
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long. Did you enter your details correctly?
If you've forgotten your details then use the 'Forgot password?' link.
Need to reset your password?

We'll send a link to reset your password to

We've sent you details on how to reset your password

Please check your email and follow the instructions.

Forgotten your email address?

Have you forgotten the email address that you previously joined with? Don't worry, by emailing enquiries@stv.tv we can help.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This must be at least 6 characters long.
ShowHide
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long.
You must be over 16 to join STV.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date
We need this to check that you live in an STV region.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid postcode
Would you like us to email you about our great shows and services from time to time?
We'll only send emails we think you'll like (see example) based on information you have supplied and shows you have watched on STV Player. For details on emails and advertising, see our STV & You page.
Would you like to receive emails from the Scottish Children's Lottery about draws, instant games and competitions?
We support the Scottish Children's Lottery (SCL), which is managed by our colleagues at STV ELM Ltd. You can find out more about the SCL on its website, including its Privacy Policy.

By continuing you agree to our Terms of Use, and understand our Privacy and Cookie Policies.

Upload Profile Picture

Please make sure your image is under 2mb in size and a valid JPG, PNG or GIF.

Are you sure?

Unfortunately, you'll be unable to access our premium content. We’ll be sorry to see you go, but if you change your mind you can rejoin us at any time.

Please verify your STV account

Please verify your STV account using the email we sent you. If you have lost the email, we can send you another one, just click the button below.

Thanks

We've sent you a new verification email.
Please check your email and follow the instructions to verify your account.

Welcome to STV
Thanks for joining us.

Oops!

Sorry, you must be at least 12 years old to place a vote for your Real Hero.

Please review our Voting Terms of Use for more information.

Oops!

Sorry! It seems that you are using a browser that is incompatible with our voting service.

To register your vote please copy the below URL in to your regular mobile browser. We recommend Google Chrome, or Safari.

http://shows.stv.tv/real-heroes/voting

Oops!

Sorry, you seem to have already voted in this category.

Thanks for voting

Now share your vote with friends on your social network

Share on twitter Share on facebook

Cast your vote

Please register or sign in to continue.

Cast your vote

This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date

Cast your vote

Please fill out this form to cast your vote. As you are under 16 years old you will not create an STV account. Why do we need these details?

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check.
Location This field is required.
Parental Consent This field is required.

That's you. All that's left is to click the 'Submit Vote' button below. By doing so, you confirm that you and your parent or guardian have read and accept our Voting Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Cookie policy, and that the details you have entered are correct. We'll look after them as carefully as if they were our own.