2006-01-05

Charles Kennedy

It wasn't the longest speech he'll ever make, but Charles Kennedy made the spech of his life today.

If he had cheated on his wife, he wouldn't be the first politician – or even the first Liberal Democrat leader – to admit this in public and be forgiven. But alcohol abuse is, in a way, an even more deeply personal thing and, for whatever reason, carries a greater stigma than adultery or even other kinds of drug abuse.

Commentators on radio and television have spoken of this as a huge political gamble; I think this cheapens what he has done. There are times in life when a person is faced with only one possible course of action, and when this happens that person has to take that course regardless of the consequences. This is what Charles Kennedy did today. He knew what had to be done, and he did it.

It looks likely that he will succeed at the personal level. In alcohol recovery the first danger period comes after about six weeks. Today Charles Kennedy said he “hadn't had a drink in 2 months” and had no intention of having another one. He has got over the first hurdle – stopping – and he has got over the second – the six-week relapse risk; from now on the hurdles get smaller.

I am sure that the question of political survival was the last thing on his mind; I hope he succeeds in this as well. Already three of the likeliest candidates for the leadership have said they will not stand against him. It is hard to think of people outside these three who could stand against Charles Kennedy and beat him.

And I would hope that his honest and candid statement will win admiration from Liberal Democrat members and the public at large. I don't remember George Best or Richard Burton making any statements of this kind, and unlike them I don't suppose Charles Kennedy has been guilty of any domestic violence.

Charles Kennedy's statement will have struck a chord with many thousands of people throughout the country, and abroad, who have recovered from addiction, and give hope to many more who have yet to recover.

Of course, having made his statement in public, Charles Kennedy will now have to recover in public as well; all eyes will be upon him. This is a personal challenge that will probably be greater than any political challenges he has faced in the past.


Geoffrey King

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