I have known Charles Kennedy on and off for more than twenty years. He is a thoughtful political voice in the often unreasonable swirl of British politics. He is charming, graceful and humorous. He has a political toughness that has stood the Liberal Democrats in good stead while he has been the leader of the party- it was largely his work that the Liberal Democrats stuck to their principles over Iraq. However, his problems with alcohol have been an open secret for several years.
The fact of Charles Kennedy admitting to his alcoholism, is of a piece with the man- and it demonstrates his integrity. However, his Parliamentary colleagues have been very concerned for some time that he has not been able to control his illness. It is clear that, if nothing else, British political life is entering a new and more competitive phase. The stakes are very high: Labour looks tired and the Blair-Brown big government approach distinctly past its sell-by date. The Conservatives, despite their shiny new leader, are disorganised, listless in approach and shallow in policy. As for the Liberal Democrats, they are disappointed that further progress did not come in bigger scale in 2005.
Liberal Democrat M.P.s are now ambitious- they will not settle, as a previous generation of Liberals had to do, for influencing policy from the sidelines. Thus the problems of Charles Kennedy must now be addressed. It is extremely reluctantly that I write these words, for I know the tragedy of the man: Mr. Kennedy must leave the leadership now.