Wanted: More politicians who can speak ‘fluent human’

So many heartfelt and beautifully-written pieces have appeared online already today about Charles Kennedy.

They’ve come from people who really knew the politician whose sad death was announced this morning.

So I wouldn’t presume to add to them.

But the man who led the Liberal Democrats to their biggest-ever numerical stronghold in the Commons always struck me as full of decency, principle and wit.

His character was summed up today by his great friend Alastair Campbell, in a wonderful and moving piece.

The line that shines out for me is this one:

He spoke fluent human, because he had humanity in every vein and every cell.

Charles Kennedy passed that all-important ‘would I invite them to my barbecue?’ test with flying colours.

I have spent an awful lot of my journalistic career defending politicians in the face of outlandish conspiracy theories and ungrateful attacks from over-cynical web keyboard warriors.

But there’s no doubt that some of the colour has been draining out of politics in recent years.

The media isn’t without fault in this, with the decision of Chuka Umunna not to stand in the Labour leadership election a recent sign of political paranoia in the face of overzealous scrutiny, as Owen Jones articulated so well recently.

The politicians that I have most enjoyed dealing with have been the ones of independent mind, the ones you could talk about non-political issues with, the ones at ease with their own skin and willing to go off-duty and off-message.

Paddy Ashdown pointed out this morning that Charles Kennedy managed to retain his ability to speak and behave like a real human being despite having none of what Labour veteran Denis Healey called ‘hinterland’ – experience of life outside politics.

That’s a real achievement, and perhaps a sign that Kennedy maintained an open mind – and open ears – throughout his long career.

As a new cohort of politicians settles into the Commons, let’s hope they take note of the qualities for which Kennedy was loved and valued.

And’s let hope my colleagues in the national media don’t punish them for it.

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