Westminster pays tribute to courage of Kennedy

Liberal Democrat politicians Vince Cable (left) and Lord David Steel arrive to attend a memorial service for former leader Charles Kennedy. Picture: Getty Images
Liberal Democrat politicians Vince Cable (left) and Lord David Steel arrive to attend a memorial service for former leader Charles Kennedy. Picture: Getty Images
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Friends and family of the late Charles Kennedy were joined by Prime Minister David Cameron, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow and senior figures from Westminster yesterday to pay tribute to the former Liberal Democrat leader.

In a moving service, friends of Mr Kennedy including Lord Jim Wallace and broadcaster James Naughtie remembered the humour, politics and life of a man who was one of Westminster’s leading stars for his 32 years as an MP.

He was never a policy wonk ... he was most at home in a studio

James Naughtie

Mr Kennedy died in June aged 55 at his home in Fort William after suffering a major haemorrhage which was linked to his long battle with alcoholism.

His ex-wife, Sarah Gurling, and their son, Donald, were present for the emotional service at St George’s Cathedral in Southwark, south London.

Lord Wallace, who was elected with Mr Kennedy in 1983, described him as “an exceptional talent”, adding “we will never see his like again”.

He described Mr Kennedy as a man of “exceptional character and talent” and praised his “great courage” in speaking out against the Iraq War.

The former Lib Dem leader was also a staunch pro-European and, looking ahead to the EU referendum, the “In campaign will be the poorer without him”, Lord Wallace said.

Mr Kennedy was elected aged just 23, defeating government minister Hamish Gray, and made his way to the Palace of Westminster “not without some difficulty”, his friend joked.

The young politician’s fashion choices shocked Margaret Thatcher, who was heard to remark: “Are you telling me Hamish Gray was defeated by a man who wears white socks?”

He quoted Mr Kennedy’s own attitude to Westminster: “Politics is much too serious to be taken too seriously.”

Mr Naughtie – a former Scotsman journalist – said Mr Kennedy “was never a policy wonk” but was “most at home in a studio.” He said the late MP had the “rare gift” of speaking down the microphone as “if he had the ear of a friend”.

Mr Kennedy’s popularity across party divides at Westminster was indicated by the presence of leading Tories including Ken Clarke and Michael Gove, while senior Labour figures at the service included Alastair Campbell – a close friend of the ex-Lib Dem leader, despite their political differences over Iraq.

Mr Kennedy’s friend and former brother-in-law, James Gurling, talked about his love of music, from David Bowie to ex-Spice Girl Emma Bunton.