It was the Paxman interview from the summer of 2002 that was the most revealing. At first he tried to brush them under the kind-of-thing-that-goes-around-the-hothouse-of-Westminster carpet. The next question, "How much do you drink?", was met by a clubbable, slightly smirking, almost conspiratorial "Moderately, socially. As you well know." Still not enough to shake Paxman loose. The next question was whether he drank privately. That was the Dr Jekyll moment. Kennedy's benign features creased into a rictus of anger, anger which seemed, to me at least, to be masking shame and fear. With defence and evasion exhausted, Kennedy went on the attack. There is nothing more virulently self-righteous than a practising alcoholic cornered about his or her drinking.
Booze, as Charles Kennedy is beginning to discover, is a real bastard. It can rob you of all that you treasure, while all the time seeming to be your best and only dependable friend. A few years ago I was told that if I continued to drink, I would lose my marriage, my capacity to earn a living and all those other things like dignity, self-respect, which mean nothing until they're gone. I did not really believe that alcohol could rob me of the things that I had worked hard for.
And yet I must have realised it was true. I stopped drinking. For weeks my head felt like a Lava lamp, the inside taking time to catch up with movements of the outside; I found I had a lot of time on my hands, I cried a lot and then after some time, rather like Charles Kennedy, I thought I had it beaten; which I did not. Although I did not start drinking again, my emotional deterioration prompted me to go into treatment. Only then did I begin to understand what was wrong.
In my experience, the paradox about alcoholism is that if one claims to be cured, to have dealt with it and to be moving on, the chances are that one is not, has not and cannot. Come to terms with that, realise that alcoholism is not something to be shaken off but a condition to be monitored every day, only that way, in my experience, is it possible to approach, without ever actually reaching, a cure.
I genuinely feel for Charles Kennedy: he is a tragic character brought down by a fatal flaw. He must have been determined, ambitious and really clever as a child and young man. Maybe he got bored, or thought it was too easy, or felt that some sort of social awkwardness, often the case with the class swot, could be overcome with alcohol; only he knows. I know that I liked getting drunk, it was a fast forward button to get past the boring bits, it manufactured drama, it made me feel important, good about myself and better than others.
And I may be wrong, but I think I see some of that grandiosity in Charles Kennedy. I wonder whether he pauses to think who he is to divide the organisation to which he has devoted his working life. He may feel resentment towards the slightly shifty people who have been hopping from foot to foot waiting for him to fall on his sword. But it will help Kennedy to see what his part in this downfall has been.
With the damage to his career, he is losing two of the crutches that have supported him through much of his adult life: it will be tough for him to come to terms with being a middle-aged man facing each day without the warming, softening and mellowing qualities of a drink.
I would invite him to examine the possibility of going into treatment in Arizona: it would probably help him a lot. He could even view it as a rebranding exercise. And, who knows, he might even enjoy life and learn to value the many things that he still has - including a very young child.Reuse content