Charles Kennedy: Political friends and foes lead Commons tribute to former Lib Dem leader

Nick Clegg described Kennedy as 'the polar opposite of a cardboard cut out, point-scoring party politician', brave yet vulnerable, brilliant yet flawed'

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Political friends and foes paid heartfelt tributes in the Commons to Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader who died on 1 June at the age of 55.

His 10 year-old son Donald looked down on the chamber from a gallery, sitting with his mother Sarah Gurling, from whom Mr Kennedy was divorced.  Several MPs directed their words to Donald. MPs from all parties praised Mr Kennedy’s principled and courageous opposition to the 2003 Iraq war – including some who backed the conflict and now admitted he had been right.

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John Bercow fought back a tear as he paid his own tribute to the former Lib Dem leader

Opening the 90-minute  special session of tributes, David Cameron said: “Looking back, it is easy to forget just what a stand [on Iraq] that was. Taking abuse from the major parties on both sides of the House and adopting a position that wasn't even supported by the previous leader of his own party [Paddy Ashdown].”  The Prime Minister said that, at his best, Mr Kennedy was “the best that politics can be.”

Watch Kennedy's full speech against the Iraq War full below: Harriet Harman, the acting Labour leader, said: “He disagreed with the decision to go to war in Iraq and he was right. But he never felt the need to denigrate those of us who got it wrong.”

She added: “Despite the adversity that he faced, he never became bitter because he cared more about his political cause than he did about his personal career. He could be the most intelligent person in the room but still be warm, funny and generous, which made him convincing and engaging in equal measure.”

Nick Clegg, the outgoing Lib Dem leader, described Mr Kennedy as “the polar opposite of a cardboard cut out, point-scoring party politician. Brave yet vulnerable. Brilliant yet flawed.”

The former Deputy Prime Minister  said that although Mr Kennedy had not supported his decision to take the Lib Dems into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, “there was never a hint of reproach or ‘I told you so’ in the advice he gave to me.” He added: “ He remained unstintingly loyal, no matter what the circumstances and no matter how strong the temptation must have been to blow his own trumpet and say that events had proved him right.”

Mr Clegg insisted that opposing the Iraq war was not an obvious thing to do at the time.  “Charles was often a lone voice in this House, standing up against a consensus in favour of war on all sides,” he said. “The fact that he was proved so spectacularly right is a tribute to his judgement and his intuitive common sense.”

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Referring to Mr Kennedy’s alcoholism, Norman Lamb, the other candidate in the Lib Dem leadership election, said MPs had a lot to learn in how to treat it as a genuine illness and combat the stigma of it. (Getty)

Several Tory MPs joined the tributes, with Sir Edward Leigh saying that Mr Kennedy had helped persuade Tories like himself and Kenneth Clarke to oppose the Iraq invasion.

Labour’s Tom Watson told Donald: “Your father was a very great man, he stood up for what he believed in, he led a party of the centre-left with dignity and compassion and when you are older you will know your mum and dad believed in a cause greater than themselves and you will be proud."

Tim Farron, the former Lib Dem president now running for the party leadership, told Donald: “You should be really proud of your daddy, I am proud of your daddy. I loved him to bits and I am proud to call him my friend. God rest you, Charlie." 

Referring to Mr Kennedy’s alcoholism, Norman Lamb, the other candidate in the Lib Dem leadership election, said MPs had a lot to learn in how to treat it as a genuine illness and combat the stigma of it.

Ian Blackford, the Scottish Nationalist who defeated Mr Kennedy in Ross, Skye and Lochaber at last month’s election, said he had been beaten by a “national tide” in favour of the SNP. He said he and his  constituents deeply regretted Mr Kennedy’s passing.

‘Brilliant yet flawed’: Commons pays tribute to Kennedy

Nick Clegg

"His good humour must not obscure the fact that there was a steely courage about him, most memorably on display when he took the principled decision to oppose the Iraq War. Charles was often a lone voice in this House, standing up against a consensus in favour of war on all sides. The fact that he was proved so spectacularly right is a tribute to his judgement and his intuitive common sense.”

David Cameron

Charles Kennedy will be remembered for his success, for his principle and intellect, and above all for his incredible warmth and good humour. He was the most human of politicians.

Gerald Kaufman

He knew where he stood, he worked out where he should stand and you knew when Charles spoke he thought it out, he thought it through, and at the same time you would not budge him unless you could argue him out of a position.

Ken Clarke

He looked like a schoolboy and rapidly people realised that, in addition to all these rather striking attributes, he combined it with being highly articulate, very self-confident and capable of addressing this House in a very fluid and eloquent way.

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