LOSS OF A LOVELY MAN

When the news came through it seemed like a genuine personal loss to everyone who knew Charles Kennedy, for everyone who knew him liked him.  Of how many serving politicians can you say that?  Of how many human beings can you say that?

Within hours the social media sites filled up with heartfelt tributes...not the formulaic variety people feel compelled to offer, but anguished and genuine expressions of grief.  To die at 55 in this age of increased longevity is a deep sadness for any family, but to lose a man of such special gifts so early seems especially cruel. Ironically we lost him at the same age as another giant of Scottish politics, John Smith.

His battles with alcohol dependency, a personal struggle about which he was painfully honest, should never detract from his prevailing qualities as a humane and decent man who, when tested by political fire - as he was over the decision to lead his party into opposition to the Iraqi invasion - took a courageous stance which many regarded as a political gamble, but he saw as his and the Liberal Democrats' clear duty.

He also made little secret of his distaste for the more recent leadership's decision to enter coalition with the Tories; Charles Kennnedy, you feel sure, could never have brought himself to share that bed had he still been in charge.  Like many of his distinguished senior Scottish colleagues  (and former leaders) he had always imagined any parliamentary pact would be with Labour - a more natural home for a movement he had  characterised as firmly of the centre left. 

But neither did he ever cosy up to Labour despite close personal friendships.  He had a clear view that the Liberal Democrats - for whom he had been an important godfather following the merger of the Liberals with the SDP - had a discrete and important role to play in their own right, and in their own manner.

Famously he had been an accomplished debater at Glasgow University, whose debating society gave birth to so many fine orators. And famously he became the first person for more than a century to earn a second term as rector of that institution.  He took some stick as "chat show Charlie" when he became free to roam the TV studios more irreverently after he stood down.  But in truth it was TV who pursued him in the knowledge that he brought a ready wit and constant good humour to any programme venture.

Those of us who faced him in a studio can universally acknowledge that easy charm was just as available when the red light went out, although the gregarious exterior masked his guardianship of personal privacy.

It's no accident that some of the most fulsome and earliest tributes were paid by his political opponents, because that was the only kind he had.  Personally, Charlie was everybody's darling.  He will be much missed.