It was with great sadness that colleagues and I learnt of the death of former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy this morning.
Charles was one of the greatest politicians of his generation, devoting his life to public service, having been elected as a Highlands MP at the age of 23 for the SDP. He held a series of roles for the party until its merger with the Liberals in 1988, and he continued to hold many frontbench roles for the new Liberal Democrat party and was elected Party President in 1990.
He became leader of the party in 1999, following in the footsteps of Paddy Ashdown. He said he wanted to make the Liberal Democrats a party of government, by building its strength on local councils and in the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales. On the national stage, he pledged to form policies that would appeal to both Conservative and Labour voters.
He led the party to winning 52 seats in the 2001 General Election.
Charles' finest political hour came in 2003, when he led the party in the opposition to the Tony Blair and George Bush invasion of Iraq. Despite being ridiculed by the other leaders and much of the media, Charles become to be seen as the unofficial leader of the anti-war movement and addressed the crowds who marched against the war in Hyde Park.
The following election, Charles positioned the party as the ‘Real Alternative’, a brand to pick up both disillusioned Labour and Conservative voters. This led to the party winning 62 seats, the largest by a 3rd party since the 1920s.
He stepped down as leader in 2006 after ITV released information that he had received treatment for alcohol addiction. He stayed in the Commons until his defeat in the SNP landslide this May.
Charles was also a regular on TV shows such as This Week and Have I Got News For You which enabled him to reach out beyond politics and the traditional Westminster bubble and allow people to see a human side to politicians. This saw him respected by many who would normally never be interested in politics.
Britain has lost one of its true liberal voices and we are all poorer for his passing.
Charles will be sadly missed by the party, and our hearts go out to his family at this difficult time.
Tributes from other political figures:
Nick Clegg: "Charles Kennedy was one of the most gifted politicians of a generation, he always spoke with great humour, humility and courage."
Paddy Ashdown: "He had his difficulties, he had his demons...but on form and on song, he was the best of us by a mile."
Alistair Campbell: "A lovely man, a talented politician, and a great friend."
John Bercow: "Charles had that rare and uncanny capacity to cut through to large numbers of voters of all political persuasions and of none right across the country."
David Cameron: "He was a talented politician who has died too young. My thoughts are with his family."
Tony Blair: "He was throughout his time [in parliament] a lovely, genuine and deeply committed public servant."
Gordon Brown: "I recognised his ability and asked him to join the Labour Party. He politely declined."
Willie Rennie: "...that cheeky smile, that Highland voice, and just a few well chosen words: He was able to catch my political heart and many people right across the nation."
Nicola Sturgeon: "A lovely man and one of the most talented politicians of his time. Gone too soon."
Alex Salmond: "When it came to a decision when the establishment was facing one way and the people were facing the other way, he took the side of the people."