Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Tribute to Charles Kennedy

Following the sad death of Charles Kennedy yesterday I made the following tribute in the Chamber.


12.40 pm

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): We all felt so saddened to wake up to the news yesterday of the death of Charles Kennedy, and the Prime Minister expressed the feelings of the whole House in his generous tribute, as did you in your comments, Mr Speaker.

As we come together to mourn his death and to pay tribute to his extraordinary qualities, there is much that all of us in political life can learn from Charles Kennedy. He was an outstanding parliamentarian and dedicated his whole life to politics. That is a powerful reminder to all of us that giving your life to politics, being a career politician, can be an honourable not an ignoble thing.

He took a philosophical approach to the ups and downs of political life. Despite the adversity that he faced, he never became bitter, because he cared more about his political cause than he did about his personal career. He had a deep seriousness of purpose and great intellect, but he wore it lightly. He could be the most intelligent person in the room but still be warm, funny and generous, which made him convincing and engaging in equal measure. He showed that there could be profound disagreement on matters of serious political judgment while still accepting the good faith of those who take a different view. He disagreed with the decision to go to war in Iraq, and he was right, but he never felt the need to denigrate those of us who got it wrong. He was strongly committed to his own party, but that did not stop him having friendships across party lines. He was partisan, but he was still generous enough to admire people in other parties.

History will show that he was one of a great generation of Scottish MPs, at a time when Scotland gave this House some of the finest politicians of the era. Exceptional politicians such as John Smith, Donald Dewar, Gordon Brown, Menzies Campbell, Robin Cook—he stands tall in a Scottish generation who were head and shoulders above their peers.

I remember when he first came to this House, aged only 23—the golden boy from the highlands. He shone in this Chamber. He was elected so young, and it is a tragedy that he has died so young. All our thoughts are with his family.

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