Charles Kennedy, pictured here in the closing days of the Scottish referendum campaign, has died. Photo: Getty Images
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Charles Kennedy, former Liberal Democrat leader, dies at 55

Charles Kennedy, who as Liberal Democrat leader took his party to their best result since the 1920s in 2005, has died suddenly at home.

Charles Kennedy, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has died at his home at the age of 55.  A statement, released on behalf of his family, said:

It is with great sadness, and an enormous sense of shock, that we announce the death of Charles Kennedy. Charles died at home in Fort William yesterday. He was 55. We are obviously devastated at the loss. Charles was a fine man, a talented politician, and a loving father to his young son. We ask therefore that the privacy of his family is respected in the coming days. There will be a post-mortem and we will issue a further statement when funeral arrangements are made.”

Kennedy, who entered Parliament in 1983 aged just 23 as a member of the SDP, led the Liberal Democrats to their best election since the 1923 election in 2005, winning 63 seats in the Commons. He was the only major party leader to oppose the invasion of Iraq and the only Liberal Democrat MP to vote against the coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.

Nick Clegg has paid tribute to his predecessor-but-one in a statement.

Charles devoted his life to public service, yet he had an unusual gift for speaking about politics with humour and humility which touched people well beyond the world of politics. He was a staunch internationalist and passionate believer in Britain's role in Europe, yet he was a proud Highlander, Scot and British parliamentarian. He was one of the most gentle and unflappable politicians I have ever known, yet he was immensely courageous too not least when he spoke for the country against the invasion of Iraq."

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmoreland and Lonsdale, described himself as "utterly heartbroken". "He was a colleague, friend and mentor. We've lost a giant today."  Norman Lamb, the MP for North Norfolk, called Kennedy a "lovely, talented man". "My thoughts are with his young son, his family and friends." 

Kennedy's death is not being treated as suspicious, police confirmed in a statement.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war