The news yesterday of the death of Charles Kennedy, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, at the early age of only 55 came as a bolt from out of the blue. Charles was leader of the Lib Dems when I stood for parliament as the Lib Dem candidate in the 2005 general election in the Reading East constituency .
Charles was everything I am not. He was gregarious, knew instinctively how to work a crowd, lit up any room he entered and was the perfect person to take on a walkabout. He was the heart and soul of the Party. Charles came into politics with the rise of the SDP, whereas although I was already a member of the Liberal Party long before the early 1980s and the days of the alliance and then the merger, on many issues we had similar views.
However, education in England was not always top of Charles’ agenda, probably because he was a product of the Scottish school and higher education systems. However, he was steadfast during his period as leader about supporting the abolition of tuition fees across the United kingdom.
The news is especially saddening since on Monday evening I had chaired a meeting of the Liberal Democrat Education Association. It was an extremely positive affair, already looking forward to the part the Association can play in helping develop policies for this parliament and beyond, hopefully of the very sort that Charles would have approved. After all, education is the key to progress and to deny education to any young person is to limit their opportunities. One challenge is still to reinforce this message to those in society that either don’t want to or don’t care to hear it.
One thing that being in politics helps you face up to is that life must go forward. After a period of mourning and reflection there are new challenges to face and political battles to fight. So, on the day the Liberal Democrats again passed the 60,000 member mark I celebrate the work of those that helped us shape the past, recognise the challenges of today and step out on the journey into the future taking with me the lessons learnt from those such as Charles Kennedy who had achieved so much, but still left those remaining with yet more to strive for.