I only met Charles Kennedy once. It was in 1986 at the Erewash SDP Christmas Party held in the (long gone) Co-operative banqueting suite in Long Eaton, where he was our guest speaker. The event is now so long ago that I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember the overwhelmingly positive impression his words made on me and the encouragement that I felt as the youngest member of the Erewash party executive at the time. I also remember Ted Gay, the Erewash party secretary, introducing Charles as a future leader of the SDP. Charles dismissed this idea with good humour, but I for one was absolutely convinced that at some point in the future he would be.
I may have joined the SDP as a student because of seeing David Owen speak at Warwick University, but it was Charles Kennedy’s influence that meant I became a member of the Social and Liberal Democrats after the 1988 merger, rather than throwing my lot in with the Continuing SDP. Jonathan Calder suggested that it was this, rather than his opposition to the Iraq War, that may have been the biggest service Charles performed for the Liberal Democrats. From a purely personal perspective, I’m definitely in agreement with this view.
From what I remember, I think that Charles took some time in formally declaring his support for the new party, but once he had, I knew that I had to follow. Up until that point, I’d been furiously hedging my bets. Somewhere, I still have the welcome pack I received from the Continuing SDP – as well as my founder member certificate for the Social and Liberal Democrats!
So like many, many others, the news that I heard at around 7am yesterday of Charles Kennedy’s untimely death came as a huge shock.
My prayers and thoughts are with his family and friends at this desperately sad time.