Charles Kennedy sidelined amid health concerns

Former party leader set to lose key referendum role amid fears of ill-health.

The Lib Dems maintain real affection for Charles Kennedy, but even their patience has been tested after the former party leader pulled out of a series of conference events.

Kennedy left the conference early yesterday -- missing Nick Clegg's speech -- ostensibly for "family reasons", but concerns over his health have been voiced across the party. He pulled out of a Guardian fringe event yesterday lunchtime, having already missed the opening rally of the conference and another fringe meeting on Sunday night.

A spokesman for Kennedy said: "He was due to be heading back to London. Charles had never intended to be at conference for Nick's speech. He has a family event this afternoon."

Today's Times reports that (£) plans for him to play a leading role in the referendum campaign next year are set to be abandoned. One senior Liberal Democrat is quoted as saying: "I don't think you can rely on him for anything." Another said: "I honestly don't know what the problem is."

Friends of Kennedy's concede that he has struggled to recover from alcoholism and that there are days when he is "below par".

It's not hard to see why this year has been tougher than most for Kennedy. He separated from his wife last month, suffered the death of his long-standing political adviser, Anna Werrin, earlier in the year and has had his every utterance picked over for signs of disloyalty.

Admirers of Kennedy, both inside and outside the party, hope to see him make a return to front-line politics in the future. But for now, Kennedy's health problems, real or imagined, are holding this impressive campaigner back.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Michael Gove definitely didn't betray anyone, says Michael Gove

What's a disagreement among friends?

Michael Gove is certainly not a traitor and he thinks Theresa May is absolutely the best leader of the Conservative party.

That's according to the cast out Brexiteer, who told the BBC's World At One life on the back benches has given him the opportunity to reflect on his mistakes. 

He described Boris Johnson, his one-time Leave ally before he decided to run against him for leader, as "phenomenally talented". 

Asked whether he had betrayed Johnson with his surprise leadership bid, Gove protested: "I wouldn't say I stabbed him in the back."

Instead, "while I intially thought Boris was the right person to be Prime Minister", he later came to the conclusion "he wasn't the right person to be Prime Minister at that point".

As for campaigning against the then-PM David Cameron, he declared: "I absolutely reject the idea of betrayal." Instead, it was a "disagreement" among friends: "Disagreement among friends is always painful."

Gove, who up to July had been a government minister since 2010, also found time to praise the person in charge of hiring government ministers, Theresa May. 

He said: "With the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to spend some time on the backbenches reflecting on some of the mistakes I've made and some of the judgements I've made, I actually think that Theresa is the right leader at the right time. 

"I think that someone who took the position she did during the referendum is very well placed both to unite the party and lead these negotiations effectively."

Gove, who told The Times he was shocked when Cameron resigned after the Brexit vote, had backed Johnson for leader.

However, at the last minute he announced his candidacy, and caused an infuriated Johnson to pull his own campaign. Gove received just 14 per cent of the vote in the final contest, compared to 60.5 per cent for May. 


Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.