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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 October 2007, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Profile: Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy
Mr Kennedy's leadership style was sometimes described as 'laid-back'

Amid the clamour surrounding several of the likely candidates to run for the Liberal Democrat leadership, one name keeps being whispered in the background: Charles Kennedy.

The 47-year-old former leader, who was forced to quit early last year after admitting a drink problem, remains a popular figure within the party.

Mr Kennedy was seen "doing the rounds", meeting activists at various fringe meetings during the Lib Dems' annual conference in Brighton and has not ruled himself out of the contest to succeed Sir Menzies Campbell.

If he did take part - which he has said is "highly unlikely" - it would be another twist in a dramatic career.

TV appearances

Mr Kennedy was first elected as MP for Ross, Cromarty & Skye in 1983, at the age of just 23, and was quickly spotted as a high-flyer.

Standing for the SDP, he unseated government minister Hamish Gray.

At first he was spokesman on social security, Scotland and health and, when most of his party merged with the Liberals to form the Lib Dems in 1988, he continued to hold a series of frontbench posts, while building his profile with regular television appearances, leading some to dub him "Chatshow Charlie".

His down-to-earth, blokeish image, honed by appearances on television programmes such as Have I Got News For You, arguably helped the Lib Dems appeal to voters turned off by traditional Westminster politics.

He took pride in being described in newspaper profiles as a "fully paid-up member of the human race".

Elections

In 1999, Mr Kennedy was chosen as Lib Dem leader, following electoral success under predecessor Paddy Ashdown.

This continued, with the party increasing its share of the vote to 18.1% in the 2001 general election, with 52 MPs elected.

Mr Kennedy moved the Lib Dems away from closer ties with Labour, established under Mr Ashdown, focusing on Europe, civil liberties and taxation.

But his most defining policy position came when he opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

He spoke at an anti-war rally in London, but backed British troops once the invasion was under way.

By now Mr Kennedy was a married man, and he became a father for the first time during the 2005 election campaign, when his wife Sarah Gurling gave him a baby son, Donald James.

He blamed the resulting lack of sleep for a stuttering performance during press conference questions on tax.

Iraq war

However, in the election the party won 62 seats - its highest tally since the 1920s.

Critics complained that, given the unpopularity of the war among many voters, the Lib Dems should have done better.

But the end for Mr Kennedy came after his admission that he had been treated for a drink problem, following years of denials.

He might have survived if ITV News had not confronted him with evidence of his condition, which had been handed to them by senior Lib Dems.

More than half of his MPs said they would no longer work with him if he was re-elected as leader, leaving him little choice but to resign.

Since then, Mr Kennedy has remained publicly loyal to the party leadership and largely eschewed frontline politics.





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