Rory's week - Rory Bremner confesses his Charlie addiction

For some time I have been coming to terms with an addiction. It has become clear to both colleagues

It was one of those moments in history: something to tell the grandchildren. I can remember exactly what I was doing when I heard that Kennedy had been assassinated. The conspiracy theories abound. Was it Ming Campbell, with a rifle from the top of the book depository? Was it Vincent Cable or the other Lib Dem MP we've actually heard of, hiding behind the grassy knoll? Who knows? And who cares? I like Charles Kennedy, respected his principled stance against the war (though I could have done with something more powerful at the Hyde Park rally than the rather bathetic "I have yet to be persuaded as to the case for war against Iraq"). I will miss him (see below). But if MPs were having to connive to keep the issue under wraps, surely it can't have done the party's credibility any good. You can't really adopt the slogan: "The Lib Dems - we wouldn't lie to you. Well, not about this."

What I do find amusing is the extraordinary diffidence and politeness of Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes as they struggled to decide whether to stand. It was all "consult with colleagues" and "take soundings" and "gauge the mood of the party". It was all so, well, reasonable. So Liberal Democrat. "I have yet to be persuaded of the case for putting my name forward." Paddy Ashdown apart, it's hard to imagine a Lib Dem leader in time of war. "We shall consult them on the landing grounds! We shall take soundings on the beaches! We shall never surrender, without first putting it to the vote among our members in the wider party."

I have a personal confession to make. For some time I have been coming to terms with, and seeking to cope with, an addiction of my own. It has become clear to both colleagues and friends that I have developed an unhealthy dependency on Charles Kennedy. And not just Charles Kennedy. David Blunkett. And Michael Howard. And Robin Cook.

It started about 15 years ago, when I fell in with a set who had frequently used, and abused, politicians in the Sixties. Throughout that decade, they indulged in the habit, in such places as the Establishment Club and the BBC. Under their influence, I began dabbling with the milder stimulants: Ken Clarke, Malcolm Rifkind, Tony Benn. Some, like John Major, could barely be described as stimulants at all, but the experience was habit-forming.

Before long I was doing large amounts of Heseltine, Ashdown and Portillo. I even tried Ann Widdecombe, a practice known as "chasing the dragon". I became a regular user of Bill Clinton, though I tried never to inhale. By the time Tony Blair became Prime Minister, I was hooked. Barely a day would go by without me craving a fix of the Labour leader or his derivatives, such as sensimilla Brown or crack Prescott.

The effects of Blair addiction were particularly striking. My judgement would be affected, causing me to believe that I alone was right and everyone else was wrong. I would lose perspective and become prone to irrational fears about weapons of mass destruction. One by one my friends deserted me. I thought of leaving it all behind, but such thoughts were banished by fears of what - and who - would follow after I'd gone.

Then I discovered Charlie. Mildly narcotic, indeed narcotically mild, here was a habit I could indulge which didn't really affect anyone or anything. Doing Charlie meant I could satisfy my conscience without any unpleasant consequences. If there was a downside, I had yet to be persuaded of it.

Suddenly he is gone. And following a recent crackdown, many of my other regular palliatives - Cook, Blunkett, Howard - are no longer readily available. The newer arrivals on the market - Cameron, Osborne, Ming Campbell - do not promise the same buzz, the same hit. Maybe it's time to kick the habit altogether. I may yet be persuaded.

Meanwhile the Cameron circus rolls on, looking ever more like a mirror image of Blair's ten years ago. Now he has become leader of the party, all he has to do is change it into another party. The calculation is simple: Blair knew he could take all voters to the left of him for granted; no one was going to vote for another Labour Party. It was a matter of how far he could move to the right before the electoral scales tipped in his favour. Cameron knows everything to his right is in the bag: it's a question of how far to the left he can go before the see-saw tips the other way.

Rory Bremner writes for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 16 January 2006 issue of the New Statesman, We were wrong about Sharon