Last night, Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, gave a press conference where he admitted that he was suffering from a drink problem. Effectively, he was declaring, in public, that he is an alcoholic and is receiving treatment for this condition.
Charles Kennedy took the seat of Ross, Cromarty and Skye in 1983 at the tender age of 23, - one of the youngest MP's ever. Moreover, he took it from the then Government Minister, Hamish Gray at a time when the Thatcher Tory government was at its height. At the time he was standing for the newly formed Social and Democratic Party (SDP). When the SDP merged with the Liberals in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats, he continued to hold a series of frontbench posts. In 1999, when Paddy Ashdown stood down, he won the ensuing contest to become leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Charles Kennedy then set about uncoupling the party from the close ties it had with Labour, and had the courage to develop a distinctive set of policies, - on Europe, civil liberties, the environment, tax and the Iraq war, - that have set the party apart. The 2001 General Election saw the party increase its share of the vote to 19% and had 52 MP's elected and in May 2005 saw that increase to 62, - the highest number of MP's for the Liberals for more than three-quarters of a century. At the same time, the Liberals have gone from strength to strength in local elections, now running many of our towns, as well as a couple of our cities and counties. He has been an impressive leader and a beacon for us liberals to guide our ships by. I feel proud to have supported the party led by Charles Kennedy.
One thing of note about Charles was that he was the only political leader in the UK to have the courage to oppose the war in Iraq in 2003. He claimed that there were no evidence to support a call for war, that it would give out all the wrong messages and that American adventurism would end up in a disastrous quagmire. He was certainly right about all that! On the whole, he has been very good for the Liberal Democrats and given us liberals some hope for the future.
Why, then, am I writing this review in the past tense? Have I written off Charles Kennedy as a positive force for liberalism in this country? Am I displaying a bigotry and discrimination towards someone who has an illness and who is receiving treatment? I hope not. I have got a great deal of respect for Charles as a person and as the leader of the party I support. He is going through tough times, and, as is typical of the man, he refuses to be beaten. There is even an argument to say that remove him from the leadership could make his problem worse as he descends into despondency and despair.
However, I believe the man needs time to pull his life together. He has a wife and baby who, I'm sure , will be a tower of strength for him. He needs time away from the public gaze and a rest from the stress of leadership. No matter how noble people's intentions are, he will now always be synonymous with drink and alcohol which, in the long run, could do serious damage to the one party that can provide the country with hope. He needs true friends who will be with him through the dark days ahead, and I am sure they will be there.
Charles, I deeply respect you, but, for your own sake, and the sake of the party we both love, please resign. Your legacy will live on, and there is much time for you to return to a more front-line position, but for now, you need to rest and get yourself better.