Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Diary: CHARLES KENNEDY

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Diary: CHARLES KENNEDY

Article excerpt

Will journalists remain as interested in the new Lib Dem leader as they are in old Lib Dem drugs policies?

If a week is a long time in politics, seven months are an eternity. That's how long it has been since Paddy Ashdown announced he would stand down as Liberal Democrat leader. Result day: endless phone calls with my excellent agent, James Gurling, keeping me posted on the latest developments at the count hosted by the Electoral Reform Society. A long but also invigorating and unifying campaign, which has been a tribute to the party's processes and members, left me a very happy candidate indeed.

In the media serum following the declaration of the result, Kennedy dominated: Kennedy senior, that is - my father, Ian. Only the journalists' failure to find a fiddle prevented him from demonstrating his well-known musical talents on the spot. I hate to think what tales of my childhood he told. One to watch, perhaps.

Day one as leader. Excellent coverage in the press, with particular interest in my vibrant election team - especially the many female members, nicknamed "Charlie's Angels". Campaigning in Lambeth, along with Laura Brodie, my campaign press officer, we visit a part of the borough where deprivation and crime are rife. People genuinely live in fear for their safety from day to day. It is clear from the residents whom I meet that closed-circuit television is a popular option for rebuilding local confidence - especially to encourage the elderly out of their homes. In the leadership campaign, I said that social justice would be a high priority, and there will be many more such visits.

One tricky moment provokes press comment. I am offered tea in Gloria Campbell's living room. Tea ranks with mushrooms as one of my least favourite tastes, and I take water instead. Let me put this on record now: I will do much for my party but I draw the line at drinking tea.

I bump into John Prescott on the same day, outside the House of Commons. He is minding the fort for Tony. The Press Association snaps the impromptu get-together. In the next day's press, our views are used to illustrate differences of opinion between our parties over long-term constitutional changes.

Given the differences between myself and John (though not, I suspect, his boss), it's a good job that I hadn't bumped into Peter Mandelson accidentally and been snapped by photographers. Imagine the headline: "Kennedy meets Mandy in torrid axe-Prescott snub fiasco".

Party leaders are seldom asked to endorse clothes or cologne or to launch World Cup bids. We have a long way to go before we have quite the appeal of David Ginola, Michael Owen or Des Lynam. …

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