Hindsight is a wonderful thing in life – particularly in politics – but Charles Kennedy somehow managed to judge the political reality and mood of the nation and his party years before most of his political counterparts.
Two of the principled positions he took in his long, 32-year political career demonstrate the strength of this judgement.
The first was his fierce and unrelenting opposition to the Iraq war – even when he knew the invasion was inevitable and some in his party were wary of appearing unpatriotic by continuing to speak out against it, Mr Kennedy possessed the courage to stand firm.
And even those who were involved in the decision to invade Iraq have admitted Mr Kennedy was proven to be correct in his opposition, including Tony Blair's deputy prime minister, John Prescott.
So sad to hear of Charles Kennedy's passing. He proved to be right on Iraq. History will be as kind to him as he was to others. A great loss— John Prescott (@johnprescott) June 2, 2015
The second was his opposition to the Lib Dems entering into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 – one of few of the party’s MPs to do so.
He argued the move represented a “strategic coach and horses” - driving the ambitions of the centre left off-course.
It was an unpopular stand to take in a party that had not tasted power for almost a century, but having lost all but eight MPs, it now looks rather prescient.
In both instances Mr Kennedy had the courage to stand by his principles in defiance of the majority and that is symbolic of the Lib Dem philosophy – echoed by current leadership contender Norman Lamb – that the party should fight for minority views until the majority see the light.
The Iraq War: A timeline
The Iraq War: A timeline
1/16 11 September 2001
Terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda use hijacked aeroplanes to kill 2,996 people in attacks on the east coast of the US.
2/16 12 September 2001
Tony Blair promises George W Bush that the UK will support the US, whatever the President decides to do.
3/16 25 March 2002
Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, warns Blair that invading Iraq would be legally dubious.
4/16 June 2002
Tony Blair asks defence officials to outline options for UK participation in military action against Iraq.
5/16 24 September 2002
The government publishes a dossier about the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. A foreword by Tony Blair states that Saddam Hussein’s “military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them”. It is subsequently alleged that this dossier was “sexed up” for political reasons.
6/16 2 October 2002
Congress authorises President Bush to use military force against Iraq.
7/16 8 November 2002
UN Security Council passes resolution 1441, insisting that weapons inspectors be allowed back into Iraq and calling on the regime to give up its WMD or face the consequences.
8/16 18 July 2003
David Kelly, an expert in biological warfare, is found dead after being named as the source of quotations used by the BBC’s Andrew Gilligan to suggest that the dossier of September 2002 had been “sexed up”. Lord Hutton is appointed to chair a judicial inquiry into his death.
9/16 13 December 2003
Saddam Hussein is captured near Tikrit, after nine months in hiding.
10/16 2 March 2004
Bombings in Baghdad and Karbala kill nearly 200 people: the worst attacks since the fall of Saddam.
11/16 14 September 2005
Bombs in Baghdad kill 160 people and injure more than 500.
12/16 30 December 2005
Saddam Hussein is executed.
13/16 28 May 2009
The last British combat troops leave Iraq.
14/16 24 November 2009
The Chilcot inquiry holds its first public hearing.
15/16 2 February 2011
The Chilcot inquiry holds its final public hearing.
16/16 21 January 2015
Sir John Chilcot confirms that his report will not be published before the general election in May 2015.
In 2003, Mr Kennedy defied senior figures in the Liberal Democrats who warned against speaking at the anti-war protest in Hyde Park, speaking with passion to call on the UK government to work with the United Nations to ensure any action was given international legitimacy.
It was a speech that many consider to be his finest and as the only main party leader to oppose the invasion, it helped him go on to lead the Lib Dems to winning the biggest number of seats at a general election since the 1920s.
It is testament to the astuteness of his political judgement that both candidates for the Lib Dem leadership are arguing for the party to return to its role as a campaigning party, willing to stand by its principles in protest against the power of the mainstream; unwilling to compromise its principles in exchange for power.
It is also a tribute to his politics that the odds-on favourite to replace Nick Clegg is left-leaning Tim Farron, who wants to return the party to the centre-left, a position where Mr Kennedy carved open a political space that attracted more than a fifth of Britain's electorate who were opposed to Tony Blair's New Labour.Reuse content