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Gifted, witty, and right on Iraq - tributes pour in to former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy

Dudley | News | Published:

West Midlands MPs and councillors have paid tribute to former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, after his death aged just 55.

Labour's Ian Austin revealed a conversation with Mr Kennedy had led to the setting up of the Bert Bissell Memorial Walk, which honours the Dudley-born mountain climber and peace campaigner with an expedition up Ben Nevis.

Mr Kennedy had served as an MP for 32 years, but was ousted from his Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency last month as the SNP swept the board north of the border in the general election. He is survived by his 10-year-old son Donald, who was born during the 2005 election campaign in which Mr Kennedy led the Lib Dems to their biggest success. He was also remembered for leading opposition to the Iraq war.

Charles Kennedy answering questions Ounsdale School, Wombourne, in 2005

Mr Kennedy's time as leader ended after he revealed he had been battling an alcohol addiction.

Dudley North Labour MP Mr Austin recalled how Mr Kennedy had helped with the memorial walk,

He said: "I bumped into Charles one day in the House of Commons and he started talking about Bert Bissell.

"Dudley was twinned with Fort William as a result of Bert Bissell climbing Ben Nevis on VJ Day in 1945 and building a peace cairn at the summit.

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Ian Austin and fellow climbers on the Bert Bissell Memorial Walk, which Charles Kennedy had helped bring about

"We talked about getting the twinning going again and then the idea came about last year for the Bert Bissell Memorial Walk."

An expedition including Mr Austin and the then Dudley deputy mayor Steve Waltho climbed the mountain last August and are planning another walk.

Mr Kennedy had visited the West Midlands in 2005 as he campaigned in the South Staffordshire by-election.

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The General Election contest that year had been postponed due to the death of the Liberal Democrat candidate and Mr Kennedy met with students at Ounsdale High School and answered questions.

At Kidderminster Hospital in 2001

Four years earlier he visited Kidderminster Hospital alongside the then independent MP Richard Taylor to discuss concerns over bed shortages.

Tributes to Mr Kennedy have come from across the political divide, many praising his kindness and decency.

Former Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said Mr Kennedy's death 'robs Britain of one of the most gifted politicians of his generation', while acting Labour leader Harriet Harman said he 'brought courage, wit and humour to everything he did'.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "I'm deeply saddened by the death of Charles Kennedy. He was a talented politician who has died too young. My thoughts are with his family."

Labour ex-prime minister Tony Blair, who took the country to war in 2003, described his former opponent's death as an 'absolute tragedy'.

Mr Blair said: "He came into Parliament at the same time as me in 1983. He was throughout his time a lovely, genuine and deeply committed public servant.

"As leader of the Liberal Democrats, we worked closely together and he was always great company, with a lively and inventive mind. I am very saddened indeed by this news."

Mr Blair's deputy prime minister Lord Prescott added his tribute to Mr Kennedy, saying: "He proved to be right on Iraq. History will be as kind to him as he was to others. A great loss."

Lichfield Conservative MP Michael Fabricant said on Twitter: "Sad news about the untimely death of Charles Kennedy. I found him to be both friendly and courteous; characteristics not always found in the House of Commons."

West Bromwich East Labour MP Tom Watson said: "Charles Kennedy was a kind man, a good dad and a substantial political leader. We will all miss him. I hope his family are given privacy."

Walsall Liberal Democrat councillor Ian Shires added: "Charles Kennedy led the party to its biggest success and positioned it to the centre left.

"He led the campaign against the Iraq war. His death is a loss not just for the party but the whole country. He was gearing up for the battle to persuade Britain to stay in the European Union in the referendum and we would have looked to him for leadership on that."

And Mike Heap, a Liberal Democrat former Wolverhampton Mayor, said: "I was a great admirer of Charles Kennedy. It was no secret he had had a drink problem and that was a tragedy.

"But he was a better leader drunk than everybody else was sober.

"I remember seeing him in the run up to the Iraq war every week at Prime Minister's Questions making the case that it was illegal. He was booed and shouted down. But he had the courage to stand up and say that it was wrong."

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