The Blog

Only the Good Die Young

Since my father died in 2013, I tend to respond quite emotionally to the death of any famous male who has died too soon - anyone before the age of seventy basically.

Most recently it was the charismatic Charles Kennedy, who died aged 55 from a drinking related hemorrhage. I spent most of the day feeling morose, following by a minor bout of tears, whilst singing a beautiful Scottish/Irish traditional song called The Parting Glass at my singing rehearsal that same evening.

One might think I overreacted a little, but Kennedy was the first politician I ever felt an affinity with. I first saw him on Have I Got News For You in my early teens, I didn't know anything about 'Chat Show Charlie' back then, I simply saw him as a person who had enough humility to gracefully accept a few jibes, and then to throw them back with humour.

He must have struck a chord, for I gradually became more aware of the Liberal Democrats as a party who seemed to align with my own beliefs in supporting the poor, and in supporting the economy.

I come from a working-class background where my Dad did good and perhaps achieved the dream many people have - to own a home, to be able to buy your children all the things you didn't have - small dreams but solid ones. Therefore, I never identified with the traditional Conservative image and agenda, and I never got over how much I disliked Tony Blair and his smarmy charm.

By the time I was old enough for my first general election in 2005, Blair was very much someone who represented a lot of what I disliked, someone who was pro-war and who represented the culture of spin that was a huge part of the New Labour identity. The Conservatives were a worse extension of that as far as I could see.

Kennedy however, represented a party who seemed fairly humble, more successful in local government, keen to do better, but trapped by the mainly two-party system we have in this country. I had also moved to Leeds for university in 2002, and my local MP was Liberal Democrat Greg Mulholland, who I met once and liked straight away.

Come 2005 I voted for Mulholland - a Liberal Democrat preference that had started in previous local elections, and continues to this day - regardless of the current state of the Liberal Democrat party. I was very pleased to see how well the party did under Kennedy's leadership, and I was thrilled with the idea of continued growth and success, and that we might have a three horse race election in the future.

I was so sad and so disappointed when Kennedy resigned in 2006, my immediate response was to shout: "plenty of other politicians have a drink problem and they aren't forced out!" I also hoped he would continue to be a vital part of the Liberal Democrat 'front bench'.

But I was disappointed further - he didn't have the opportunity to battle for the leadership again - even though Nick Clegg was a worthy post-Menzies Campbell successor, and his personal belief that the 2010 Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition was wrong pushed him further away from the spotlight. I thought the coalition was the best chance the Liberal Democrats had to prove to the electorate that they could lead competently, as well as improving our society. I still believe like Clegg does, that they did rein in the Conservatives and that they did do good for this country.

Come May 7th 2015 however, it seems that no-one else agreed with me, and the Liberal Democrats lost all their recent gains and with the SNPs runaway success, only totalled eight MPs from an fantastic fifty-seven. I was so sad for the party, it felt very unfair and the pain etched in Clegg's resignation speech was awful to see.

Kennedy lost his seat that day, a seat he had held since before I was born. He had also lost his father a few weeks before. What an awful combination, what does one do? How does one help? After reading his friend Alastair Campbell's June 2nd blog, I thought he might be okay. I really did.

But no. Something said no, and as much as I'll never understand why someone would give up - is that even the right thing to say? - I've seen it happen two other people in my husband's family. Two men aged 49 in a very similar boat to Kennedy. One who was decorating my living room six weeks before he died, who was texting me about attending my wedding two weeks before, and who was gone two weeks later.

How do you even fathom such a thing? Personally, I tried not to focus on it, especially given the last twelve months I had had. But now, with Kennedy gone I've thought about it more. I'm not mourning the losses per se, but it is just so tragic and so awful that many many people die this way. All have families, children and friends who will miss them.

As always, my best solution is to cry, to allow yourself to feel shitty, and to then remember them. So, for Charles Peter Kennedy, 1959 to 2015, here are the words to a song I will now always remember you by.

The Parting Glass

Of all the time that e'er I spent I spent it in good company

And any harm that e'er I've done, I trust it was to none but me.

May those I've loved through all the years,

Have mem'ries now they'll e'er recall.

So fill to me the parting glass;

Good-night and joy be with you all.

Good-night, good-night, good-night and joy be with you all.

O all the comrades that e'er I had are sorry for my going away

And all the loved ones that e'er I had would wish me one more day to stay.

But since it falls unto my lot,

That I should leave and you should not.

I'll gently rise and I'll softly call;

Good-night and joy be with you all.

Of all the times that e'er we shared I leave to you fond memory

And for all the friendship that e'er we had, I ask you to remember me.

But when you sit and stories tell,

I'll be with you and help recall.

So fill to me the parting glass;

God bless and joy be with you all.

God bless and joy be with you all.

Arranged for SATB with organ accompaniment by Andrew Gant for St Bride's Church, London. Performed with permission by Concordia Chamber Choir, June 20th 2015.