Charles Kennedy: Lib Dems most successful leader for 80 years

Credit: PA

Charles Kennedy, who has died at the age of 55, led the Liberal Democrats through its most successful period since the 1920s which saw the party win 62 seats in the 2005 general election.

Born in Inverness in 1959, Kennedy was brought up and educated just outside Fort William, before attending Glasgow University. Following his graduation in 1982, he moved back to his home town where he worked as a journalist and broadcaster with BBC Highland.

He quickly moved into politics and was one of the non-Conservative successes of the 1983 election when he won the Ross, Cromarty and Skye seat for the Social Democratic Party to become the youngest MP of the time at the age of 23.

During his term in parliament he acted as a spokesperson on issues ranging from the welfare state to Europe, agriculture and rural affairs. He has served on the All-Party Select Committee that introduced the televising of the chamber.

A young Charles Kennedy at the 1987 SDP debate about merger with the Liberals Credit: PA

As discussions began about a possible merger between the SDP and the Liberals, Kennedy made his views clear and became the first SDP MP to back the merger after the 1987 general election. He moved a successful motion to this effect at the party conference that year.

Taking over from Paddy Ashdown in 1999, he went on to lead the party through its most successful period and its best election result since the 1920s at the 2005 contest, winning 62 seats. That success was put down to his leadership and the determined opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Charles Kennedy took over from Paddy Ashdown in 1999 Credit: PA

"Without a second UN resolution, there is no way that the Liberal Democrats could or should support war," he said at the time.

But in January 2006, following months of rumours about his drinking, Kennedy dramatically admitted he had been receiving treatment for an alcohol problem and said he was calling a leadership contest.

While he declared that he wanted to carry on he was forced to stand down in the face of the threat of mass resignations by senior colleagues.

Sarah Gurling and Charles Kennedy were married in 2002 Credit: PA

In July 2002, Kennedy married Sarah Gurling, the sister of his friend James Gurling, with whom he had one son, Donald James, who was born in April 2005.

However, the marriage only lasted eight years with the couple announcing a separation in August 2010. Divorce followed four months later.

After resigning as leader, Kennedy mixed his parliamentary duties with further education after winning a hard-fought contest to be elected as Rector of Glasgow University in 2008. The previous year he had been unanimously elected President of the European Movement in Britain.

In the 2015 General Election, he was one of the many Lib Dem MPs who lost their seats to the SNP in Scotland. Kennedy suffered further loss during the campaign when his 88-year-old father, Ian, died in April.