Kennedy denies health rumours

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy last night issued a categorical denial that he has a drinking problem or any other serious health concern.

Rumours about Mr Kennedy’s health had been building up ever since he missed last Wednesday’s Budget – reportedly due to a stomach bug – and appeared pale, thin and sweating heavily when he addressed the Liberal Democrat spring conference in Southport on Sunday.

The speculation was brought to a head when former front bencher Jenny Tonge, MP for Richmond Park, called for Mr Kennedy to undergo a “top-to-toe” medical examination, and assess whether he is still fit to lead the party.

Former GP Dr Tonge was sacked from the Lib Dem front bench earlier this year, when she suggested that she understood the motivations of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Speaking on the ITV News last night, Mr Kennedy stated, “I certainly do not have a drink problem, no. I have always been a sociable person, as you well know, over the years and I am not about to change that. But that is no impediment or interference with my life in general or my leadership in particular.”

In response to the allegations that he had missed the Budget due to drinking, he insisted, “Absolutely, categorically untrue. And very unfair to me personally to try and make that sort of innuendo.”

However, earlier yesterday, Mr Kennedy’s former rival for the Lib Dem leadership, Simon Hughes – now the party’s candidate for May’s London mayoral election – remarked, “He’s no Paddy Ashdown.”

Speaking on Sunday’s Breakfast with Frost programme, Mr Hughes stated, “Paddy Ashdown, I think, was never ill. The rest of us do get ill sometimes. It was a bad day to be ill. I think everybody accepts that.”