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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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.