For those of us who believe that politics is vitally important, but that so many of the politicians who practice it seem distant and remote from the lives of ordinary people, today’s news of the passing of Charles Kennedy MP is unbearably sad and dispiriting. For Kennedy was of the rare breed of politician who sounded and looked like us.
Let me give you some names: Kenneth Clarke, David Davis, Alan Johnson, Dennis Skinner, Menzies Campbell, Charles Kennedy. I would suggest that they are all real human beings who happen to be politicians. I have met none of them, but they talk like real people. Whilst I might disagree with what some of them say, I happen to think they say things as they see them. Not, for them, the political-speak of spin and trotting out the party line. Politicians who, I would suggest, cut through the crap.
Politicians have a bad name these days and for good reason. They have taken us into unjust wars, they have lied to us, they have said one thing and done another and many of them have fiddled their expenses on an industrial scale. And they talk to us as though we are their loyal subjects, at their beck and call, awaiting their pronouncements like downtrodden serfs.
As ever, I voted Labour at the last election, but who amongst their number really talked like me? Much as I admired the intellect and honesty of Ed Miliband, he was not a man who made his way to (near) the top of the greasy pole by having done ‘proper’ jobs. Neither had much of his shadow cabinet. That is not his, nor their fault, but frankly they did not look like us, did not talk like us, probably didn’t understand us. And the argument is the same, but more so, with the Conservatives. This is not me engaging in class war, but come on: how on earth could the likes of Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Johnson have the first idea how the rest of us live our lives? It was not Cameron’s fault that he was born into luxury and privilege and has known nothing else, but the fact is he cannot possibly grasp the issues of someone struggling by on the minimum wage, scrabbling around trying to get a doctor’s appointment or trying to get a place to live in. Like Miliband, he never had a proper job before attaining power and like Miliband he did not look like one of us and never could.
Look at Alan Johnson, born in poverty, working as a postman, living a life. David Davis was similar. Dennis Skinner worked in a coal mine. All right, Kennedy was “only” a journalist and was a politician for most of his career but he was not a career politician and he really was everyman. He was bright, intelligent and very, very funny. And he had principles. This was the only political leader who stood up in the House of Commons in 2002 and opposed the proposed invasion of Iraq. I will never forget that because it was the very issue that caused me to leave the Labour Party, to date never to return. It never occurred to me that Kennedy opposed the invasion for political gain because, at the time, action against Iraq was hugely popular and those of us who opposed it were in a small minority. Kennedy called it right and history will show him in a particularly good light.
I fear his tragic battle with alcohol and the demons associated with it may have been key factors in his passing and that saddens me greatly. We don’t do very well as a society for those who suffer from alcoholism and mental illness and this could be a high profile example of both. Whatever the outcome, I so hope we act with respect for him and his family.
One thing is for sure: society in general and politics in particular is infinitely the poorer for the loss of Kennedy. Switch on the TV and see lines of identikit politicians following the party line, giving evasive answers to vital questions, saying one thing and meaning another and, yes, lying.
Not only was Kennedy blessed with the touch of the common man, his principles saw him oppose the war in Iraq and he was the only Lib Dem MP to oppose the disastrous coalition with the Conservative Party which has seen his party all but obliterated.
Above everything, I am upset at the loss of a good man, a good man who was plainly in politics for all the right reasons and was a real human being with, sadly, real human faults. We should all of us from all political standpoints mourn his passing because Kennedy stood out as an individual in a world of machine politicians.