THE former Liberal Democrat MP for Newbury David Rendel has paid tribute to the party's former leader Charles Kennedy.
Mr Kennedy died at his home in Fort William aged 55 yesterday (Monday, June 1).
Mr Rendel, who fought the leadership election against Mr Kennedy in 1999, told NewburyToday that the news had come as a shock to everybody.
"It's a very sad day.... he was a great leader, a fantastic speaker, very witty very clever and brilliant with people. He really got people on his side."
Mr Kennedy replaced Paddy Ashdown as leader of the party in 1999 and led the party to its best election result since the 1920s in 2005, when the Lib Dems won 62 seats, something Mr Rendel said was down to his leadership.
"He was a great leader, no question," he said. "He was a good friend to me. He was very friendly to everyone I guess."
Mr Kennedy visited Newbury ahead of the 2005 general election and attended a dinner at Newbury Racecourse to celebrate Mr Rendel's 10th anniversary of being an MP.
Mr Kennedy stood down as leader in 2006 after announcing that he was being treated for an alcohol problem and lost his seat for Ross, Skye and Lochaber to the SNP in last month's general election.
Mr Rendel said that Mr Kennedy would be remembered as someone who greatly enhanced the Liberal Democrat cause.
The MP for Newbury, Richard Benyon, said parliament would feel the loss of of Mr Kennedy.
"He was one of those people who transcended party political lines and was immensely liked and admired," he said.
"He was an affable and genial person to have around. I think there is genuine sadness to his loss."
Police have said that there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding Mr Kennedy's death.
For more reaction to Mr Kennedy's death, see this week's Newbury Weekly News.