Westminster drinking culture ‘killed Charles Kennedy’

Charles Kennedy eventually lost his battle with alcoholism, which cost him the leadership of the Liberal Democrat party. Picture: PA
Charles Kennedy eventually lost his battle with alcoholism, which cost him the leadership of the Liberal Democrat party. Picture: PA
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A DRINKING culture at Westminster has been blamed for helping to cause the death of the former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Mr Kennedy died suddenly at his home in Fort William earlier this year. The 55-year-old had suffered a major haemorrhage as a result of a long battle with alcoholism.

Yes, there were issues but he wasn’t tormented

Carole Macdonald

His partner, Carole Macdonald, 53, discovered Mr Kennedy’s body. She knew him from their days at Glasgow University, and was the widow of one of his closest friends, Murdo Maconald, who died several years ago.

In an interview with a Sunday newspaper, she insisted he was “not a tortured soul” as a result of losing his seat after 32 years in May’s general election and said that she had not realised how ill he had been.

In her first interview, Ms Macdonald revealed she believes a drinking culture at Westminster had played a part in his problem with alcohol.

She said: “You are in an environment, often late at night, where drink is available, cheap, sociable, and you don’t have to drive.

“All the constraints that might stop you aren’t there. It is there and it is being normalised within your life.

“I don’t think it caused it, but I’m sure it contributed to it. I suppose it must have contributed quite a lot.”

Mr Kennedy revealed he had been receiving treatment for an alcohol problem when he stood down as the UK leader of the Liberal Democrats and eventually replaced by Sir Menzies Campbell in 2006 following an internal coup by senior party members and MPs.

His marriage to his wife Sarah ended in 2010 after eight years.

Despite seeking help and treatment Mr Kennedy’s problems with alcohol continued until his death and were used in the recent general election campaign by supporters of SNP’s Ian Blackford who defeated him to become the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber.

Brian Smith, a former policeman who was the convener in Mr Blackford’s local campaign office, was forced to quit after it emerged he posted at least 130 messages about Mr Kennedy including messages in which he described him as “a drunken slob” and “Quisling-in-chief”.

But Ms Macdonald denied the campaign or defeat was the cause of his death.

She said: “They made out that Charlie was this tortured individual and that angered me. I didn’t think they knew him particularly well. Yes, there were issues but he wasn’t tormented. There weren’t two sides to him. He was very considerate, gentle and non-confrontational. What you saw in public was the way he as in private.”

Ms Macdonald, who lives in Bridge of Weir in Renfrewshire, said she and Mr Kennedy had wanted to keep their relationship quiet.

She said: “I didn’t want to be public about things and Charlie was very protective. He was also very protective of my kids. He didn’t want a story where there didn’t need to be a story.”

She also said that Mr Kennedy’s death had come as a shock and there had not been any indication of his illness.

She said: “There was absolutely nothing wrong with him until that last weekend. I’d dropped him at the airport he previous Sunday. I spoke to him on the Sunday night before he died.

“I knew he wasn’t well, I knew he needed help and he needed to get things stabilised but I had no idea it could have that devastating effect.”