Tributes have poured into former Liberal Democrat party leader, Charles Kennedy, who has died suddenly at his Fort William home, aged 55.
Mr Kennedy, who led the party from 1999 to 2006, was an MP for 32 years and lost his seat in last month’s election. He became the first Catholic to lead a major party in Britain when he was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats in 1999.
In a statement his family said: “We are obviously devastated at the loss. Charles was a fine man, a talented politician, and a loving father to his young son.”
In a 2002 interview with the Guardian Mr. Kennedy described himself as “a Christian of Catholic disposition”, having grown up a practicing Catholic and an altar boy.
Reacting to the news Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said: “Charles Kennedy’s death at the tragically premature age of 55 is a great loss not only to politics in our country but to the principles of civic and civilised engagement. His wisdom and courtesy were a mark of his Highland upbringing, his political skill grew from his sharp intellect and his humility and concern for others was testament to his deeply-held beliefs.
“He will be mourned by his family, by many in the world of politics and
within the church, by the parishioners of St. John’s Parish in Caol and
beyond. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all at this time.”
Dr John Pugh, Liberal Democrat MP for Southport and one of the few to retain his seat in the last election, said: “Clearly his faith was a support. He showed up at Mass at the House of Commons quite frequently in the last couple of years, and we were delighted that he did.”
He continued: “He made Britain’s third party believe it could become a major political force in its own terms, standing up for internationalism. He gave the party a sense of identity and self-belief.
“On the coalition [which he voted against joining], he wasn’t a back seat driver as the former leader. He kept his own counsel and didn’t undermine or criticise Nick Clegg.”
Mr Clegg, who recently stepped down from the Lib Dem leadership, paid tribute to the politician he described as “gentle and unflappable.”
“He was immensely courageous too not least when he spoke for the country against the invasion of Iraq.”
He continued: “Charles devoted his life to public service, yet he had an unusual gift for speaking about politics with humour and humility which touched people well beyond the world of politics.”
Mr Kennedy began his political career in the Social Democratic Party and won his first seat in Ross, Cromarty and Skye at the age of 23, making him the youngest MP at the time. He quickly became the SDP spokesperson on social security, Scotland and health.
After taking over the party leadership from Paddy Ashdown in 1999, Mr Kennedy led the Liberal Democrats to their best election results since the 1920s in 2005. He resigned as leader in 2006.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said he is “deeply saddened” by Mr Kennedy’s death.
He continued: “He was a talented politician who has died too young. My thoughts are with his family.”
No cause of death has been given but the police have stated they are not treating it as suspicious.
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