January 09, 2006 | Jeff Wall

The hypocrisy over the demise of Charles Kennedy.

If there is a strong whiff of hypocrisy in our air today then it has wafted all the way from the United Kingdom.
The demise of the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK, Charles Kennedy, is as appalling a piece of hypocrisy and total injustice as I have ever come across.
The Leader of the third force in UK politics has been forced out of the leadership allegedly because he has a “drinking problem”.
Now if politicians were forced out of high office because of a “drinking problem” there would be lots of vacancies in most Cabinets, and Parliaments. And had a “drinking problem” been factor in the past, then some of our most notable, and respected leaders would have had early and messy ends to their careers.
One of the most successful, and effective, political leaders in the post-war period was Henry Edward Bolte, Premier of Victoria for a record period. Not only did he enjoy a drink on a hot, or even cold, day, he smoked untipped cigarettes. And having been a “record breaking” drinker did not obstruct Robert James Lee Hawke’s rise to the highest office in our land.
I well recall the case of the Senator who was so tanked that he voted with the other side by mistake…and was rushed off to Canberra Hospital by his colleagues who returned to the Chamber to assure everyone he was being treated for “renal colic”, to which one whit commented “they can’t even bloody pronounce alcoholic!”.
As Lord William Deedes (who has been in UK politics for more than 60 years) pointed out in his weekly UK Telegraph column recently, if a fondness for strong drink was an obstacle to political office, then many of the most successful UK leaders would never have achieved statesman status!
The truth of the Charles Kennedy matter is that he is the sad victim of politics at its mots vicious. He was knifed by former staff, friends, and, significantly, current colleagues – publicly and privately.
There is no doubt Kennedy has had a drinking problem. He agreed in 2004 to seek help for it. But, as one whose father was an alcoholic, I can say with certainty that “help” often does not help at all…and takes time to have any beneficial effect.
There is no evidence Charles Kennedy has been adversely affected by strong drink in recent times. He says himself he has not had a drink for two months. There is evidence he was in the past. So why has it become an issue now?
I suspect it became as issue because Charles Kennedy, to his great credit, was getting on top of the problem…and the “excuse” his treacherous party opponents were using to undermine his leadership was rapidly approaching its “used by” date!
But it gets even more pathetic.
Charles Kennedy was forced into a personal statement last Thursday confirming he had had a drinking problem because he knew that a former staffer intended to report on television news that night her former boss was a “recovering alcoholic”.
His public admission was dignified and courageous. How sharp is the contrast with the grubby way for colleagues, and former staff, ran a whispering campaign against him for months using his drinking problem as the lynch pin?
Charles Kennedy must not be the sharpest blade in the political cutlery set…but some very sharp knives have been used to ruin forever the career of a Leader who took the Liberal Democrats to their highest number of Parliamentary seats for generations less than a year ago.
And if his colleagues were aware he had a drinking problem before the UK general elections last year – as they were – then they need to explain why they did nothing about this “terrible” position BEFORE Charles Kennedy was offered to the people of the UK as choice to hold the “balance of power” if not power itself.
The truth is that when they count not bring down Kennedy on policy or other salient grounds, they resorted to the worst kind of smear of all.
Is it any wonder there is an absolute dearth of good men and women seeking public office in western democracies today?

Posted by Jeff Wall at 11:40 am | Comments (2) |


  1. Some Thoughts on the Liberal Democrats Leadership

    I try to keep across political developments in a range of countries, but I’ve always taken a particular interest in the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats in the UK, as they are one of the overseas political parties most readily comparable to the Aust…

    Comment by The Bartlett Diaries — January 9, 2006 @ 4:39 pm

  2. Hear Hear! I watched the BBC’s Hardtalk program yesterday and it appears that the same tactics are being used within the party to undermine one of the contenders for the leadership by outing him as gay. What is going here? I thought Liberal Democrat meant the utmost respect to the individual?

    Comment by matt byrne — January 31, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

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