Charles Kennedy on Iraq, Scotland and the need for a friendlier politics

In memory of Charles Kennedy, we look back at some of his most memorable comments


We were saddened to hear this morning of the untimely death of Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader who has passed away at the age of 55.

Known for his good humour and dislike of partisan politics, Kennedy will be perhaps best remembered as one of the most vociferous opponents of the Iraq war. Former deputy prime minister John Prescott said today:

“He proved to be right on Iraq. History will be as kind to him as he was to others.”

Here, in memory of Charles Kennedy, we look back at his politics and the comments he will be remembered for:

On the Iraq War

Kennedy believed the Iraq venture was led by ‘charlatans and chancers’:

“Never again must this country be sold an incomplete and false prospectus as a basis for unilateral military action without the sanction of the United Nations.”

He was highly critical of Tony Blair, especially his relationship with George Bush:

“You cannot move on, when the prime minister remains in denial.

“You can’t move on when people are dying every day. And you cannot move on when our British troops are still in the firing line.

“The prime minister’s pride should not get in the way of finding a solution for the people of Iraq.

“His blind support for George Bush is continuing to cost lives – Iraqi citizens and coalition soldiers.”

On the coalition:

Kennedy voted against Nick Clegg’s decision to enter a coalition with the Conservatives in 2010:

“Like many others I was keen to explore the possibilities of a so-called “progressive coalition”, despite all the obvious difficulties and drawbacks.

“It remains a matter of profound disappointment that there was insufficient reciprocal will within the Labour party – and they should not be allowed to pose in opposition purity as a result.”

On Scottish devolution

After leading the ‘Better Together’ campaign for the Lib Dems, Kennedy welcomed the referendum result:

“Now the next welcome tasks begins – more power to Scotland and the Highlands within a reforming UK.

“We will need to put the referendum differences behind us and work together for a common and agreed future.

“Let us – Yes and No voters alike – go forward in constructive and friendly spirit together.”

On the SNP

Critical of their attempts to reopen the independence campaign, Kennedy was no fan of the SNP:

“We are seeing [centralisation] over fire and police services, we have previously experienced it over the Crofting Commission and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

“Even Mrs Thatcher, at the peak of her powers, would have baulked at such political audacity.”

On disagreement:

Speaking about the tuition fee hike, Kennedy said:

” I cast no aspersions whatsoever on the conclusions arrived at by any others.

“These are testing decisions being taken against an extremely difficult economic backdrop; it is incumbent upon us all to recognise the sincerity of the motives among those who arrive at a different outcome.”

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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13 Responses to “Charles Kennedy on Iraq, Scotland and the need for a friendlier politics”

  1. AlanGiles

    A man of great principle, who, nonetheless, never became pompous or took himself too seriously. A terrible tragedy at such a young age.

  2. swat

    Before Blonde Mop BoZo there was another celeb politician on the Box and that was the Ginger One Charles. Very personable, charming likable and carried away by his own affability and status in the Media than in Parliament. I think he preferred the company of celebrities than of politicians. Then, who wouldn’t. Sad to his short life end.

  3. Gary Scott

    A great politician who, like all of us, had his flaws. Had his party not chosen to use this to oust him, then they would not be in this position today. Even his own seat could have been preserved as not only were the LibDems punished for the coalition but also for their involvement in the hyper-nasty Better Together campaign. If only Kennedy had been asked to lead this instead of Alistair Darling things could’ve been so different. He was under appreciated and under utilised. Hopefully he is remembered for being principled throughout his career – rare in politics..

  4. Tony Ojolola

    My rambled thoughts to friends far and near earlier in the day – The announcement of the death of Charles Kennedy this morning has left me norm to say the least. 55, by any reckoning, is too young an age to vacate the stage of life. But shocked as I am about his untimely demise, I know too well that in the end what ultimately matters is what you do with your life and not how long you hang around. Back to the subject of theatre. Shakespeare, in As You Like it, said: ‘All the world is a stage.’ If that is true, as far as British politics in the last 30 years is concerned, there were fewer better thespians than Charlie ‘Have I Got News for You Kennedy.’ Many today will recall an incoherent Liberal leader, ravaged by the demons of alcohol, hardly able to string two words together at a press conference in the twilight days of his leadership in 2006. But what posterity will remember Charles Kennedy for was making himself the focal point of the opposition against the Bush-Blair illegal invasion of Iraq. At a time when a huge pressure was on his young shoulders by no other than the entire British establishment, that decision can’t have been easy. ‘Playboy Charlie’ some called him because unlike many British politicians he was not in the slightest stuffy, indeed, very comfortable in his own skin. A thoroughly signed up member of the human race, Charles Kennedy. If like Barack Obama he demonstrated first rate judgment by opposing the Iraq war, he also showed great foresight by urging his party not to go into coalition with the Tories in 2010. As he put it, ‘it will drive coach and horses through the Liberal project.’ Nick Clegg and only seven other MPs in the Commons after the biggest political tsunami to plague the Liberals in a 100 years, alcohol or not, ginger hair Charlie sure had clear vision when it came to political judgment. Not since the death of Diana have I felt the way I feel this morning about the passing of a national icon. David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Nick Clegg, (no doubt Menzies Campbell too) Kennedy’s predecessors and successors have had many glowing things to say about Kennedy; the youngest MP since Pitt the Younger (Prime Minister at 24, 1783) to grace the House of Commons at the age of 23 in 1983. Frankly, it is not a tough ask. For me, one of the best tributes I have heard about Mr Kennedy thus far, was that of a 60 year old man who called in on a radio programme a few moments ago. By his own admission, he had never voted in any election. He had never been inspired by anything on offer, he said. He also said this: ‘If Charles Kennedy had been on the ballot paper in my constituency, I’d have gladly voted for him.’ Adding: ‘He was the most gifted and principled politician of his generation.’ Hear. Hear. And the best I have heard did not come from the public or party, but from an implacable foe of the Liberals. I talk of no other than John Prescott, the British Deputy Prime Minister under Tony Blair. Of the Scottish Highland MP who is sadly no longer with us he said: ‘History will be as kind to Charles Kennedy, as he was to others.’ Let those words be on his epitaph. Adieu Charles Kennedy, you’d be immensely missed. Tony OJOLOLA


    He was given the order of the boot by his constituents. People have no loyalty but only self interest and this was proven when Charlie lost.
    I did like the man but he along with other liberals attacked Labour vigorously and helped get the Tories into power 2010.

  6. AlanGiles

    James. Charles Kennedy OPPOSED the coalition and either abstained or voted against it.


    He was Liberal and opposed Labour.

  8. Cole

    He was, but some of us can respect people who are not Labour – sometimes. And he was right on Iraq, unlike the Labour leadership, as Prescott now concedes.

  9. AlanGiles

    I agree with Cole, James. It is a fact he turned down overtures from both Blair and Cameron, which suggests an independent mind rather than anti-Labour sentiment.


    Many opposed the Iraq War including Galloway. The fact is is that Parliament voted for war inspite of the weapons inspectors saying the WMD was long gone.
    Personally I doubt Blair was a poodle but probably convinced Bush to go to war as Thatcher convinced Bush 1 to retake Kuwait from Saddam.
    Remember Suez.


    Alan you can do or say anything from the sidelines when not in power.

  12. Cole

    What’s that got to do with anything? Many of us – millions – opposed Iraq, and we were right. It was obvious it would be a disaster, but the Establishment couldn’t see it, possibly because they were busy sucking up to Bush. And why mention the despised Galloway – a cheap and pointless jibe.


    I do not despise Galloway. He made the arguments for the Scottish working class to stay in the Union. The only Liberal to get real positive legislation through parliament was David Steele. How do you know you were right about Iraq?

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