Monday, March 26, 2007

Book Review: Charles Kennedy: A Fatal Flaw

Greg Hurst's book on Charles Kennedy is one I highly recommend. Before I started reading it I had heard it was a little plodding and not very exciting. I have to say I didn't find it so at all. Let me start by declaring an interest. One of my last acts before I left Politico's Publishing was to commission this book, albeit by a different author, Duncan Brack. Duncan comes from the left of the LibDems and would have written a very different book to Greg Hurst. I suspect he would have been far more critical of his political decisions but would have wrestled with the personal elements. Due to work commitments Duncan had to pull out of writing the book and Greg took it over.

Hurst begins the book by relating the 'events of last January' as we shall call them. He does it in a non-judgemental way and an air of inevitability permeates every page. He asserts that Kennedy took a long time to realise the game was up, much longer than his advisers. There was an air of the Fuehrerbunker about Cowley Street, where few people could bring themselves to tell the leader the awful truth - that his days were numbered.

Hurst makes Kennedy's early parliamentary career sound a greal more interesting that it actually was - I say that as a compliment. He's also quite stark in his analysis of his character traits and flaws during that period, which gives a sense of a gradual car crash which is takes quite a few years to happen.

The one thing which Greg Hurst possibly fails to do is to apportion blame for the fact that Kennedy's drink problem was allowed to go on for so long with no one at the top of the party prepared to address it. Perhaps this is understandable in that Kennedy was genuinely liked, even by his political opponents in the LibDems. Telling someone they have an alcohol problem is akin to telling them that their wife is cheating on them - not something one does with alacrity.

All in all, this is one of the better written and stylish biographies I have read in recent years. It treats the reader like an adult and avoids hyperbole. I have no hesitation in recommending you to buy the book HERE.


Newmania said...

Yes but what is it all for ? What do they want...we still have no idea and I therfore assume that for most it is a flag of convenience.

I genuinely believe that a frozen state of adolesence contributes to the amorality of the Liberals and the peculiar viciousness of its in fighting.

Anonymous said...

Newmania, judging from that rather silly comment, I think it's you who is suffering from an ongoing adolesence.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Iain, it is a very interesting book.

I feel that it's more of an account that an insightful analysis though. It is only in the last chapter that he tries to argue about why this all happened as it happened and it's probably the weakest of the chapters.

Reading the book does make you realise how the events themselves also conspired to keep Kennedy there. Every time it got bad, Kennedy would perform and outside events would take over. Then the polls would rise and the incentive to(and possibility of) changing Leader was not there.

Anonymous said...

I'm not, nor ever will be, a Lib Dem voter, but seeing Charles Kennedy on Question Time last week, I did realise how much we missing that important third voice in parliamentary politics.

He has a public ease that no other party leader has, and particularly when matched against Menzies Campbell.

Campbell had a great reputation, and I believe, the respect of all sides, as a statesmanlike foreign spokesman. But the move to the Leader's Office, despite impressive changes to the efficiency of the party behind the scenes, is marred by a very shaky public persona.

Don't send Charlie to Brussels, as Iain suggests, let the fella grow up a bit, spend time with his young family, and then with a bit of maturity he can return to the front bench, and maybe the hotseat once more.

Anonymous said...

While we are apparently in the mode of plugging political biographies, could I possibly recommend that anyone who has not already read "Mao - the hidden story" by Jung Chang should do so. They will then realise that totalitarianism based on communism was the real scourge of the 20th century, and have some insight into the problems of moving back to normality from such a nightmare world.

Anonymous said...

The book appears to be called 'A Tragic Flaw', not "A Fatal Flaw" as your title has it.
Or am I missing a joke?

Anonymous said...

Many of us, in the course of our working lives, have had to tell a colleague, "You're drinking too much." It's a disagreeable task, but not one to be shirked, or even postponed. The Lib Dems do not come well out of this.

Anonymous said...

I really am not keen on this modern idea that politicians should be moral paragons. Some of the best politicians we have had were prodigious piss artists.

Bring back Charlie I say.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: the book's title was changed a little before publication, so I guess Iain was going off the old information.