Monday, August 28, 2006

EXCLUSIVE: LibDems Knew of Kennedy's Drinking for Years

Tomorrow The Times will serialise Greg Hurst' new biography of Charles Kennedy. It alleges that senior Libdems knew of Kennedy's drinking problem when he was first elected leader in 1999. It also reveals that Kennedy planned to make his alcoholism public in July 2003 but backed out at the last minute. When his drinking became a real issue his four closest aides (Anna Werrin, Dick Newby, Jackie Rowley and Lord Razzall) hatched plans to hide it from the public. Sir Menzies Campbell was also complicit in the deceit and according to The Times, the revelation will "call his judgment into question".

The book also offers an explanation for Matthew Taylor's fall from grace. In 2004 Sir Menzies Campbell and other senior MPs met Charles Kennedy, who was asked if he was an alchohlic. He replied "Yes". Matthew Taylor, then Party Chairman, repled: "The next time you pick up a drink, you give up being leader."

UPDATE: This has just been posted in the Comments... "I was a BBC reporter at the time of the 2005 General Election and I was preparing to interview kennedy. was going to ask about his drinking. I was warned off by the Top Brass only to find my assignment list was altered." Regular readers will remember a little spat I had with Nick Robinson when I accused him and others in the lobby of 'maintaining a conspiracy of silence' over certain issues. What I meant by that was that mainstream media journalists were keeping quiet about things which were entirely relevant to a politician's ability to do his/her job or stank of hypocrisy. Prescott's affairs and Kennedy's drinking were two examples I used. I'd love to hear from other journalists who were ordered by their bosses to keep quiet about various issues, which they might have felt were in the public interest. Anonymity is guaranteed.

As luck would have it I am doing the News 24 paper review at 10.50pm and 00.15 am!

PS: I suppose I ought to declare a minor interest in this book, having originally commissioned a book on Charles Kennedy when I was still with Politico's Publishing in 2003. It was meant to be written by former LibDem Policy Director Duncan Brack, but he decided not to go ahead in the end. After I sold Politico's Publishing they signed up Greg Hurst of The Times to take it on.

48 comments:

Rick said...

Pity Cameron doesn't drink...........I remember George Brown saying the pressures of politics drove men to drink or to women.............and he was a damned good market place orator - I remember him well

Anonymous said...

I was a BBc reporter at the time of the 2005 General Election and I was preparing to interview kennedy. was going to ask about his drinkingf. I was warned off by the Top Brass only to find my assignment list was altered.

Scary Biscuits said...

Um... how is this exclusive? Im sure I read comments to this effect in most of the papers when Kennedy was ousted.

In fact, for anybody who has known somebody with a drinking problem it would be suprising if it were otherwise. The physical effects in the addict are usually painfully obvious.

Nor is it surprising that LidDems hushed it up. You could hardly expect them to undermine their leader.

Much more scandalous has been the behaviour of the dead tree press. They clearly knew too but for some reason chose not to share this information with the readers who pay their salaries. One wonders what else they're in kahoots with politicians over against the people. Thank God for the internet and let us pray for the end of their oligopoly.

WmByrd said...

Charlie was Drinking for Years'? You mean, non-stop? I'm envious - most of us amateurs can only manage a few hours or days at a go!
The question I expect most LibDems want answered is: 'Did he recycle his bottles properly?'

Andrew Woodman said...

Was wondering when you would latch onto that Iain. Was reading the Times report and I thought I was pissed when I read the sentence 'Sarah Teather tipped as a future leader'.

Peter Hitchens said...

This is way below you Iian.
So what if he was(is) a piss artist?
If his constituents don't want him then they can sack him.
Concentrate on what really matters, getting out of the EU,lowering taxes, sacking 95% of public employees (including Cameron) bringing back hanging and the birch (both in public) No foreign adventures that don't advance the interests of the British people, bring back the right to bear arms for personal defence that we had under the bill of rights and get on with deporting certain folk, promise that and I guarantee that the conservative party would win the next general election.

rkjfyoung said...

Why you suppose, Iain, that this will do harm to the Lib Dems or Ming Campbell (as you surmised it would while reviewing papers for BBC News 24) I cannot imagine. It did no harm at the beginning of the year when the subject was toopical and fresh in the public mind (remember Dunfermline). Everybody's well bored with it now. And anyway you were plainly tryinmg to have it both ways - saying one minute that the LibDems were covering it up, and the next that it was "an open secret". You confused, got a drink problem, or what?

Luke young said...

To be honest i'd be more surprised if the top lib dems didnt know about his drink problem.
my question is will kennedy try to be the Jed Bartlett/Leo McGarry of the libdems and return to lead the liberals regardless of his alcoholism?... probably not but with the West Wing gone we need some entertainment

ACM said...

The story is now on the Times website at http://tinyurl.com/lghh4 and http://tinyurl.com/nnfnn

Iain Dale said...

rkjf young (God, how many names have you got?!), The LibDems were trying to cover it up, but people in Westminster knew, but chose not to share it with the rest of the country. It showed bad judgment by senior LibDems that they were willing to put up with this. It may have been humane in one way, but completely wrongheaded in another.

As I am teetotal my only drink problem is that I don't like the taste of it!

It reminds me of a woman who once asked Sir Denis Thatcher if he had a drink problem. "Yes, my dear I have," he excalimed. "I can never get enough of it!"

Luke young said...

There is only 1 Luke young (luckily for the world)I've got to say i agree with you on this one.... it gives the image of libdems huddling round to cover it up instead of dealing with the problem and either giving support or showing Kennedy the door.

shergar said...

Iain, the BBC hack perhaps is entitled to anonymity, but who was the boss who reassigned him/her? And what else has been hushed up because it suited the BBC's agenda?
Perhaps it suited them to keep Charlie in the house to savage Blair at PMQs over the Iraq War.

Whatever, I flick on the news last night to see another one-sided, emotion-laden 'plea for justice' masquerading as a news story from Orla Guerin, and I have to ask...why do you or I or anyone pay the salaries of these parasites?

Beachhutman said...

You can be in a state of "functioning alcoholism" for years. In the case of Charlie, I'm not sure it did much damage to his party as they were never going to be elected and he was never going to have to make important decisions. I suspect a hell of a lot of holier than thou journos are scared shitless of us finding out they are alcoholics too.

Adrian Yalland said...

Iain, EVERYBODY new that Kennedy was/is a drunk - it was one of the very 'open' secrets which the cosy Westminster club (senior journos wined and dined by politcal masters who then control the news agenda by the back door) wouldn't talk about.

What worrys me constantly about all this - which is why I love the internet so much - is that journos are just so close and pally with MPs, and feel a warped sense of loyalty to them, and thus self censor the media agenda - and keep us in the dark!!!

Not every bit of tittle tattle is relevant to the general public, but something as serious a party leader so drunk on regular occassions that he cannot do his job properly (and is therefore taking the mickey out of the tax payer) is legitimate. Party hacks keeping it secret is just doing what they are paid to do. Journos not reporting is is just us being kept in the dark and makes a mockery of a free press

Anonymous said...

I was the regional BBC hack who posted earlier. I have since left the BBC as a Conservative minded thinker I would never progress.

The BBC is left of centre through and through. I upset Prescott once in an interview and was told by an editor that 'New Labour had me on a shit list' and sure enough I had trouble securing interviews after my Prezza stand off.

Prescott - got angry at a whim, his staff were petrified of him
John Reid - just vile and attacked journo rather answer an honest question
Blair - slimy and his staff repugnant
Brown - we never ever saw him in the regions
Milburn - happier talking to a blonde
Byers - under rated and frequently honest which surprised me
Blunkett - his staff had a real thing of us not filming him putting the harness on his dog (they would surround him during this action)
Beckett - what's the point

rkjfyoung said...

The other relevant consideration is that many still think Charles Kennedy drunk showed better judgement over Iraq than Blair, Howard, even Campbell (who was faint-hearted about Lib Dem participation in the big February 15 peace march)... when they were all supposedly sober. Your BBC interviewer said in tones of awe that Charlie was an aspiring Prime Minister while on the bottle - but even if he had been a real Prime Minister he would have been by no means the first to have had such an addiction. How many more "open secrets" are still sculling round Westminster without, as yet, being "outed"?

ACM said...

Times Leader now online: http://tinyurl.com/ndkc7

The Times views this as positive for Ming, calling him 'Ming the Merciful' - it will be interesting to see what the other papers make of it, however.

My view is that this story will blow over quickly enough. If we have a quiet week for news this week, then it will be covered heavily. Even then, though, I can't see it having more than a fleeting effect on the polls.

We saw what voters thought of Kennedy's problems when they were revealed: not much. These new 'revelations', while of interest to us politicos, add nothing substantial to what is already common knowledge.

Scary Biscuits said...

Anonymous BBC Hack, you should speak to Yates of the Yard if you can.

What you describe is illegal according to the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1906. This makes it an offence to offer or deny any 'gift' or 'consideration' with the intention of influencing somebody to behave against the interest of his 'principal'(in your case the BBC and licence fee payers). According to the CPS advice to prosecutors, it is not necessary for your actions to have been influenced, merely that that was their intention when they put you on the 'shit list'.

I appreciate that this behaviour has become so universal that it's a little bit difficult to believe that it's illegal. Partly this has been caused by the wholesale importation of the PR culture from the states in the 90s. More recently, it's been spurred on by the West Wing. The trouble for us in the UK is that, unlike in the US, such selective briefing and inviting journos to parties etc isn't legal here.

The other problem, no offence intended, is that the journalists are as thick as thieves with each other and we've not found anybody yet prepared to blow the whistle on this corrupt bargain that has developed between NuLab and the media, where NuLab feeds preferred journalists with stories/invites them to parties/etc in return for favourable coverage.

If anybody doesn't believe me that this is illegal, I can email a copy of the 1906 Act on request.

Anonymous said...

Yes, everybody knew of Kennedy's drinking. At the time of Kennedy's election, I knew a LibDem, very low-level, several degrees of separation from anybody actually elected, but who mocked Kennedy being elected as he was an alcoholic.

This is not news, let alone an Exclusive, sorry Iain :-)

tapestry said...

Nothing came out about Kennedy or Prescott until after the GE. It was in no one's interest to rock boats til after the poll. Then succession battles commenced in all parties, and tongues began to wag.

Rick said...

Now can we have the scoop on which MPs have a cocaine problem ?

griswold said...

I have an irrational dislike of the poison dwarf, Miss Leather. She reminds me of a Rosa Kleb. Yet she was the only one who had the balls to put the boot in and change things. That Kennedy was 'protected' by Ming and the lobby tells us all we need to know about them. Kennedy himself was gutless too much addicted to the trappings. Like most politicians unemployable outside Westminster.

strapworld said...

Iain,

This is quite pathetic. You told me to 'loosen up' on real issues. Read Peter Hitchens comments, he speaks definately for the people I mix with socially and professionally.
Kennedy has admitted he is an alcoholic. This is sheer gutter press and beneath you. Let him fight this most awful of conditions.The book would have been more interesting when CK was the leader. Now it will be for sale on amazon for 50p within a month!

Perhaps this blog's underlining message is that you are afraid of the Lib Dems as Cameron is intent on taking all their policies!

Perhaps, as a future MP, you should attend an AA meeting to try to understand the problems these people face. But, there again, as with the armed services I am sure you will tell me to lighten up.

Ignore the people, as Cameron is doing, and he will fail. By the way have you ever been asked for your opinion by the opinion oll people. Nobody of my acquaintance has, ever!

Barney said...

I think the question of what journalists don't report is a fascinating one - but its worth remembering that proof is always needed before a story can be run and that requires on the record quotes from someone reliable. If no one will say something happened publicly, you have real legal difficulties printing it even if you *know* it to be true. For a journalist to write that someone is a drunk, without public confirmation from people close to them, it would be considered to be the worst kind of biased reporting. Remember the Gilligan affair - journalists must have two sources that stand up, otherwise they are at grave risk of not being able to verify what they report if challenged.

Libel suits are a very serious threat - and don't be fooled by the gungho attitude of the News of the World etc to lawsuits - no journalist wants one, most news organisations go to great lengths to avoid them, and all journalists are taught what you can and can't say.

I have no particular knowledge about the Kennedy example - but I do know that journalists "tried" to say it. If you read between the lines since the late 1990s, you would have picked up on the resporters' descriptions of Charlie as "jolly", "sociable", "liked a whisky"... etc. Perhaps if you all weren't so busy attacking journalists you might have more energy to actually listen to what they're trying to tell you, in words that won't get them a lawsuit. Many issues have been discussed disscreetly over the years, just not in a screaming Daily Mail-style, 54-point headline.

beethoven writes said...

There are 60,000 pubs in the UK. Someone must be drinking in them to keep them all going! Isn't calling another Brit an alcoholic a bit hypocritical of us all?

Rick said...

They just had this trivia on Today with Evan Harris doing his Violet Elizabeth Bott act.

Why are politicos like chimps ? They have a conference coming up so they need to put Kennedy on ice to protect Sir Lacklustre............it is so transparent and yet they go through the motions of pretending to be altruists - esp Evan Harris.........I wonder what secret the press is keeping for him ?

It is all so puerile........we live in a very sad polity.........Harris gets all prissy about alcohol but never mentions drugs

Anonymous said...

Libel suits are a very serious threat - and don't be fooled by the gungho attitude of the News of the World etc to lawsuits - no journalist wants one,

That's what chatrooms are for..........or do journalists trawl for little girls instead ?

Charles Martel said...

regarding the silence of the lobby journalists, anyone remember this nugget from Trevor Kavanagh:

“Learning that John Prescott’s had an affair is a bit like learning that Simon Hughes is gay. I mean, everyone knew he has affairs. He’s had a string of affairs throughout his life and this has come as no surprise."

No surprise to the lobby perhaps, but certainly a surprise to Joe Public Labour voter.

and what else are the lobby hiding Mr Kavanagh?

your job is to report Mr Kavanagh - not to cover up. if you dont do that job, then blogs like Iain's and Guido's are only too happy to fill the void.

Barney said...

Journalists do read blogs and websites! Is that not obvious from the fact I am clearly a journalist or are you lot really that bad at reading between the lines...?

Though some blogs are becoming more trustworthy and papers do use them as sources (see Iain's most recent post) but again, only if they provide evidence (again, see Iain's post - he had emails). Hearsay isn't enough. You can't go to your editor and say, 'I've got a cracker of a story, people have said this on a blog...' because if you print it and you're wrong (or unable to prove you're right) you still get sued.

HF said...

We now learn that at 2 General Elections (01 and 05), the Lib Dems said "we are the party to vote for us and we have decided that Charles Kennedy is a suitable person to be PM".

When they were doing that, most of their top team had known since 1999 that their Leader was freqently unable to perform his job because he had an addiction to booze.

These Lib Dems put the needs of their party before their duty to the Country. Not just once but on many occasions and it eventually involved their entire Leadership team. All they had to do was remove him from the role.

They did not and are an utter disgrace.

Fruning Graplecard said...

dodonline writes:-

In fact, for anybody who has known somebody with a drinking problem it would be suprising if it were otherwise. The physical effects in the addict are usually painfully obvious.

As someone who lived with an alcoholic father, I agree. It was fairly obvious to me too, and that the outcome had to be Kennedy's removal.

In a recent interview he was very shifty when it came to a question about how he is now with the problem. My guess is that he is still not on top of it.

But this is not about a personal problem:

It is about the story being hushed up - and of course it was. Everyone has their moment, and the powers that be decided to delay his, for their own political reasons. It would have damaged the Lib Dems deeply if Kennedy had resigned before the election. You could say they interfered with the outcome to preserve their rotten liberal (small "l" manifesto for a few more years, since had the Liberals experienced an electoral meltdown, Labour's current majority would be certainly smaller than it is.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12.06

Blunket Dog Harness -

That's because he was taking the dog for a walk by his arse.

He clear talks enough shite to get himself all confused!

Martin Curtis said...

The issue here is that the Lib Dems lived a lie at the the last General Election, including allowing Kennedy to deny being an alcoholic.

This is a massive deceit of the electorate, in which the current leader was complicit. It makes anything the Lib Dems say at the next General Election totally unbelievable.

Tabman said...

Martin Curtis - I bet you wer happy enough that alcoholic Winston Churchill was Conservative Prime minister.

Anonny Mouse said...

tabman -> the difference is , is that Churchill never denied his fondness for the drink. It was also more socially acceptable back then - it was a macho thing to be seen as a "hard drinking" man.

Whereas affairs, for example, were most definitely not, and were a resigning matter.

Little Black Sambo said...

Thank heavens he was not accused of smoking or child abuse.

ol' timer said...

Barney said...
Journalists do read blogs and websites! Is that not obvious from the fact I am clearly a journalist or are you lot really that bad at reading between the lines...?

Though some blogs are becoming more trustworthy and papers do use them as sources (see Iain's most recent post) but again, only if they provide evidence (again, see Iain's post - he had emails). Hearsay isn't enough. You can't go to your editor and say, 'I've got a cracker of a story, people have said this on a blog...' because if you print it and you're wrong (or unable to prove you're right) you still get sued.

9:51 AM

Hi Barney, good to see up and about! First time you've said anything sensible, well done, keep it up!

I told you that you could do it.

Scary Biscuits said...

Barney is wrong to use the libel laws as an excuse for journalists collaborating with politicians in hushing things up.

It is a statutory defence in libel to claim that the claim is true. In the case of Kennedy, a journalist who had had the balls to have claimed he was an alcoholic could simply have asked a number of MPs and colleague to testify on oath if he was sued by Kennedy. Kennedy could have tried getting everybody to lie for him in court (as what was recently alledged to have happen in Scotland with Sheridan) but as Jonathon Aitkin will tell you this is a very risky option in London. And would Ming have risked going to prison for Kennendy? I think not.

The real problem here isn't the Libel law. It's corruption in the media. Journalists who don't toe the establishment line find it difficult to get interviews and eventually to hang onto their jobs.

Journalist who do, by contrast, get to see the Chancellor's budget speech before Parliament or even the Prime Minister (see The Sun every year on budget day 1998-2005), for example.

Unfortunately the web isn't immune to this type of corruption. Already Guido and Iain et al. are being flattered with invites etc. and no doubt government agents will be some of the offerees. Then either by government 'regulation' or by the maturing of the market into powerful brands, competition will decrease and those finding themselves at the top of the pyramid will be free to accept such bribes without losing readership.

Anonymous said...

I know of an occasion when the story about kennedy's booze problem was about to run on all BBC outlets, but it was dropped at last moment because of strenuous denials from LD HQ.

Paul Walter said...

Matthew Taylor has never been "party chairman" of the Liberal Democrats - in fact noone has ever been "party chairman" of the Liberal Democrats. No such post exists. There is a Party President. Matthew Taylor has never held that post either.

I think you may be referring to the post of Chairman of the Parliamentary Party of the Liberal Democrats. Matthew Taylor held that post from 2003 until 2005.

Fruning Graplecard said...

I have challenged James Landale to publish the allegations posted by "anonymous 10.10" on the Nick Robinson blog which ironically has a post headed, "A cover up?", relating to the LibDems covered up the CK story.

Funny how Lames didn't mention the BBC's complicity in this, isn't it?

I have credited ID of course.

The post has yet to appear on the Robinson blog, and in a funny sort of way, I don't think it will.

Greg said...

No Churchill fans on this thread.

Verity said...

Has Charles Kennedy driven a car off a bridge resulting in the death of a young woman who had her mouth pressed to an air pocket for several hours while he swam ashore and went home and changed before calling his lawyers?

Because his Kennedy namesake, so someone who falls down drunk shouldn't be leading a party, that's for sure, but I don't believe he has killed anyone. Teddy is still legislating dead drunk.

Why this urge to protect drunk politicians?

Iain said...

On libel: Tommy Sheridan recently won his case against the News of the Screws, despite the NOTS having 18 witnesses testifying that he had done what they said he had.

John Major and Edwina Currie both won libel damages for suggesting they had committed adultery.

Not to mention Jeffrey Archer.

Winning libel damages seems to depend primarily on getting the sympathy of the court.

On Charles Kennedy, it's not as if alcoholism has clear, objective symptoms in the way that, say, a broken leg does. At what point does drinking more than is good for you become a drink problem and that in turn become alcoholism. So it's not as simple as saying Kennedy lied or colleagues covered it up.

UK Daily Pundit said...

Kennedy is a man that has never done a days work in his life. He wouldn't know what a days work was if it slapped him in the face. He's leeched from the taxpayer all his working life as a politican. And how does he repay the taxpayer? He goes on a four year bender.

So next time you hear him express concern over low wages and poverty, take his words with a pinch of salt. Because he's a liar. As are his parliamentary colleagues that helped him cover the facts up.

Anonymous said...

I hope this book is going to have some slightly more interesting revelations than THAT! They better be saving some of the goodstuff. If this is as bad as it is going to get, then frankly it smacks of a self-flagelation PR rehab regime. We need to read some of the gory details of those times he ‘let himself down!’ Show us the unmentionables!

Adrian Yalland said...

UK Daily Pundit! Well said. What exactly has this useless odious man ever actually done - certianly not ever had a proper job or had to create welath for his political freinds to 're-distribute' on his behalf. He, and many like him, are leeches - growing fat of the sweat on our backs!

As for the rest of you - some thoughts!

1. Democracy rests on a free press. There are two ways a Government can control a free press (and undermine democracy). The first is by shooting journlaists who write unfreindly stories (which some say is not a bad plan - but is still technically illegal), and the second, get the journalists to 'self censor' their output. The second is less blatant - but very widespread amongst the lobby (I know many lobby hacks - and the stories they tell me indicate they often act in the best interests of 'the system' which keeps them as cosy as the MPs are, rather than in the best interests of the public. This includes colluding to cover up stories rather than telling us!

2. My father was an alcoholic, and when he was drinking, he was a great laugh - but unstable and certianly not to be trusted! His judgement was often impared and he would take risks which he would not have taken sober. Drinking nerely killed him three times - each time when he had an accident when drunk (electrocution and two car crashes). He also used to drive when drunk and lost his licence. To his credit, he knew he was a danger to others - but couldn;t stop drinking - so he just stopped driving instead! He finally lost his leg in a car crash (he wasn't driving, but he was pie-eyed and accepted a lift with someone who was as also as drunk as a lord - and he crashed and threw my father through the windscreen, rather than call for help, he scarpered from the scene and left my father dying from a severed femoral artery).

Alcoholism is a sickness, and drunks need help. But they are unreliable and should not be trusted with power or the ability to make important decisions - their judgement is impaired.

3. The Lib Dem's lied to us about Charles Kenedy's ability to lead the country. Charles Kennedy lied to us about his drinking. They are now hiding behind 'every body needs some privacy', but when you are an important public figure - this is a legitimate matter, and the people deserve to know - and privacy is not a good enough reason for lying and covering up uncomfortable truths. Anyway, I suspect this had nothing to do with privacy - they just didn't want us to know in case it lost him support!

Churchill liked a drink - for sure - but was he an alcoholic? Do we know for sure? He lived a very long time for an alcoholic. Most alcoholics die young from drink related complications.

Also, an alcoholic can actualy be a very light moderate drinker - someone who, for example, gets by on just one drink a day. I knew a lady who you would never suspect was a 'drunk', she never smelt of booze and never appeared under the influence, but she once told me she couldn't survive the day unless she had a small glass of vodka for breakfast - but that this was the only alcohol she ever drunk! I also know others who went on 4 year benders, then just stopped drinking and showed no side effects at all - certianly no cravings, or DTs! Wierd or what?

That's all folks.

Mr Sandman said...

rkjfyoung said... "The other relevant consideration is that many still think Charles Kennedy drunk showed better judgement over Iraq than Blair, Howard, even Campbell (who was faint-hearted about Lib Dem participation in the big February 15 peace march)... when they were all supposedly sober."

DONG!!!

Wrong.

You should read this. Particularly the detailed Green party explanation of what really happened. He prevaricated and dissembled.