Birth of Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats 1999 - 2006

Born in Inverness, Charles Kennedy’s entry into politics was very sudden. While studying in the USA he gained the SDP nomination for Ross, Cromarty and Skye early in 1983. Facing a quick election, he hurried back and won the seat defeating Tory minister Hamish Gray to become, at 23, the youngest MP in the House of Commons. In his first parliament, Kennedy served as the SDP’s spokesman on health. Following the 1987 election, Kennedy became the first SDP MP to back merger with the Liberals. Elected President of the merged party in 1990, Kennedy succeeded Paddy Ashdown as party leader in 1999. As leader Kennedy carved out a distinctive position for the party, in particular opposing the Iraq War, which saw the party record its best result since 1923 winning 62 seats. However, disappointment that the party hadn’t done better in the election and concern at Kennedy’s drinking led to a challenge to his leadership which resulted in Kennedy’s resignation in January 2006. He remained in parliament until he lost his seat to the SNP in 2015. Less than a month later Charles Kennedy died aged 55. His passing occasioned genuine public grief, hundreds attended his funeral and tributes from all parties were paid in the House of Commons. As the Daily Record commented ‘His death has prompted a wave of sadness because we feel he was neither elite nor remote as a politician. He was one of us.’