Saturday, 3 September 2011

Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy - A Tragic Flaw by Greg Hurst ISBN -10:1-84275-176-X

The blurb on the covers says Greg Hurst understands the personalities and working of the Liberal Democrats better than any other political journalist...   a fascinating and often dramatic, insider account of Charles Kennedy's leadership.

The first part of that is undoubted true, the second part rather undersells a book which covers Kennedy's entire life and career as well as providing a clear account of the history and workings of the SDP and the Liberal Democrats.

The tragic flaw is of course alcoholism, which very sadly.  As a friends of Kennedy say - it is hard to tell when heavy drinking turns into alcoholism, even when Kennedy appeared to cut down on his drinking, his body was already less able to cope both with and without alcohol.  That is the cruel dilemma for addicts.

The events in the book often seem like a different age, how quickly politics can move on. Even Kennedy resignation as leader is almost 6 years ago.

Kennedy emerges as a politician of great judgement and rare ability to connect with the public. Rather than
'lazy' as he was sometimes painted, he comes over a thoughtful and unwilling to close down options and seeking to avoid unnecessary conflict.  Clearly he was not someone for detailed policy but that need not be a disadvantage for a party leader.

Little snippets -  the revolting Labour party by-election campaigns - particularly at Birmingham Hodge Hill.
The huge frustration of leading a party which gained over a million more votes and yet won only a handful more seats.   The huge reluctance of the Lib Dem MPs to be ruthless in getting rid of Kennedy,which made the process worse. 

Despite his easy TV manner and chat/game show appearances, Kennedy was a shy person, disliked long formal meetings, sometimes lacking in self-confidence despite his ability to master a brief incredibly quickly.

The book almost argues that Kennedy fatal flaw was being elected an MP at 23, being a gifted politician who would have been a Cabinet Minister in any other party but who instead chose the SDP and Liberal Democrats,  but in the end it concludes that failure to address his drinking until it was too late was the fatal flaw.

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