Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Charles Kennedy: a personal tragedy

Tell me I'm going soft in my old age, but on a personal level, I'm feeling sympathy towards Charles Kennedy who was forced to quit as Leader of the LibDems over his battle with alcohol.

I deplore his politics which I believe have more to do with opportunism than principle, and have no truck with his loyalists trying to spin a story of how brave he was to confront his problem. He wasn't. It was forced on him and he let down his Party.

But it's a personal tragedy all the same and I hope he's able to recover from his alcoholism.

Just when he's starting to pick himself up after the New Year revelations about his drinking led to his resignation, a book comes out trawling over every detail of his life - and his drinking.

Actually, the book by Times political journalist Greg Hurst won't be published until next month - to coincide with the LibDems annual Conference, where Mr Kennedy is said to be planning something of a come-back onto the political stage.

But damaging extracts of the book in The Times today may well dampen those plans.

Of course the public have a right to know that the man the LibDems hailed as "The Real Alternative" at the 2005 General Election was not fit for high office due to a serious illness called alcholism.

On the other hand, being Leader of the LibDems is not exactly the highest office in the land...

And there was never any real danger of Champagne Charlie actually getting his hands on the keys to 10 Downing Street. So the risk to national security was minimal.

From what I've seen of Greg Hurst's biography, it seems worthy but hardly sensational (though there may be more to come of course).

The media - and maybe some rival politicians - will no doubt seize on Hurst's revelation that the LibDem heirarchy confronted Kennedy in 2003 about his drinking when he admitted to them that he was an alcoholic.

There will be questions over the judgement of those at the top of the LibDem Party, specifically why was he allowed to continue leading the party into the 2005 General Election.

At one stage, he'd apparently decided to "come out" about his problem at a press conference, publicly admit he was having treatment, but try to carry on as Leader. But at the last minute he backed out and refused to go through with the planned press conference, insisting instead that he'd deal with the problem his own way.

He even went on Newsnight and denied his alcoholism.

That is maybe understandable - denial is no doubt part of the illness. But he was happy to repeatedly and wrongly accuse the Prime Minister of deliberately misleading the House of Commons over Iraq.

Senior LibDems must have known this was double standards at the time.

I was fascinated to learn from Hurst's book that Kennedy's tipple was not whisky from his native Highlands, or even champagne as previously rumoured, but gin and tonic or wine.


Anonymous said...

Being an alcoholic and being an effective politician.... a certain Winston Churchill springs to mind.

Then there was the Prime Minister on drugs... Anthony Eden

At least neither of them were neocons like the present incumbent.

fairdealphil said...

brynley, Churchill was undoubtedly effective as a war leader - probably helped along by his love of the bottle.

But as Prime Minister in the 1950s he suffered heart attacks which stopped him from functioning at all.

This was kept secret from the British public and the Tory grandees eventually had to use a crow bar to remove him.

These days it's a big story when the Prime Minister has tooth ache (Thatcher) so unlikely much can be kept from the public for long...although on second thoughts, John Major was able to conceal his affair with Edwina for years.

Anonymous said...

It still goes on...

Ming Campbell has a Sanatogen habit.

Should the public be told?

Manchester University Labour Club said...

You are obviously rather foolish. When TB lied about Iraq he was villified by the public and rightly so. Kennedy lied and that is more of a problem than the alcohol will ever be.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ, Soft Socialist.

Drinking is clearly the problem for Charles Kennedy.

It's just that I don't wish anyone to sound sanctimonious, there but for the grace of God go most of us.