Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake has paid tribute to his “witty, compassionate and principled” former leader Charles Kennedy, who has died at the age of 55.
Mr Brake – who was promoted to Transport and International Development Spokesman under Mr Kennedy – described the Scottish dad-of-one’s death as “a loss to the country”.
Speaking to Tom Latchem on FUBAR Radio, the audibly upset MP said:
“Clearly it’s a huge loss.
“It’s a loss to his family, he has a young son and it is tragic he won’t see him growing up.
“We have lost someone who was witty, compassionate and principled and that’s a great loss to the country as a whole.”
Mr Kennedy, who led his party from 1999 to 2006 but lost his seat last month, died at his home in Scotland. No cause of death has been given but police said it was not suspicious.
Mr Brake – one of only eight Liberal Democrat MPs left in parliament following his party’s devastating recent General Election performance
– said his former boss would be remembered for his opposition to the Iraq War, leading the Lib Dems to their best ever General Election performance in 2005, as well as being “approachable and principled”.
The MP for Carshalton and Wallington said: “Clearly Charles is someone who is very well-known, very well liked within the party and took the leading position in relation to the war against Iraq, and I think that is what he will be remembered for.
“He was a real contrast to [the previous Lib Dem leader] Paddy Ashdown. Charles had a much more laid-back approach to things, but that laid-back approach, that sort of very friendly, witty approach to politics didn’t stop him taking the tough decisions that were needed.
“Like [with] the Iraq War. He insured the party was united in that campaign against the war in Iraq and of course we’ve known that since that position was vindicated.
“He was someone who was approachable, that when people saw him on television for instance could relate to him, in a way that perhaps [with] more than stilted or stuffy politicians people find very hard to identify.
“I think his impact, taking us to the public and actually [being] a person that people could identify with the Liberal Democrats.
“Someone who managed to go on Have I Got post For You and not find their political career crashed as a result.
“Other politicians have tried it and not been entirely successful, but he was there, the public liked him and that gave us really an opportunity to put across in his laid-back ways some key Liberal Democratic principles – and he was very successful at doing it.
“And of course it was under Charles that we hit the maximum number Lib Dems MPs in Parliament in 2005 when one in 10 MPs in parliament were Liberal Democrats.”
Discussing the loss of Mr Kennedy’s seat, Mr Brake added: “I’m sure it would have impacted on him, as it has done on all of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, whether it’s colleagues who were re-elected or colleagues that lost their seats.
“It’s a tough time for us but we will rebuild, and we’re taking confidence that over 15,000 people have joined the party since the election and that rebuilding process is now on the way.”