.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Cyril Smith R.I.P.

The death of Cyril Smith yesterday marks the passing of an era in Liberal politics. Cyril was a maverick, but that is not a bad thing. He was Mr. Rochdale, but he was also a politician who was not afraid to speak his mind irrespective of the consequences, and who wore his principles on his sleeve. To me that is the mark of a good liberal.

Skimming through David Steel's autobiography again, just now I was struck by just how awkward-squad Cyril was. He opposed the Lib-Lab pact in the 1970s at every opportunity, speaking and voting against it at special conferences, standing out as the lone MP within the Parliamentary Party at one stage to seek the end of the pact, but ultimately he was a party loyalist who threw his considerable weight behind the leadership at a crucial moment to prevent a split.

He was also opposed to the SDP-Liberal Alliance, famously saying that it should be strangled at birth, but again he stayed with the party to protect his liberal inheritance.

I never met Cyril, but I saw him and was aware of his presence at Party Conferences. I remember at my first Liberal Assembly in 1981 in Llandudno being in awe at being in the same lobby as Cyril and Clement Freud. As somebody who was born and brought up in the North West of England, I was also aware of Cyril by his reputation.

Whatever his faults, Cyril was a man of the people and Rochdale responded to that accordingly. I expect his funeral to be one of the biggest the town has ever seen. He and his family dominated politics there for decades not just through sheer strength of personality but also because they achieved results.

If Liberalism is strong in Rochdale and other parts of Lancashire it is because of the foundations that Cyril built. He was a great man and the North West is poorer for his passing.
I believe that people have underestimated the extent to which Cyril Smith built on a Liberal tradition in Lancashire, unfortunately submerged in the 1950s beneath a few dubious local deals with Conservatives. Smith was surely correct in his assessment of the Alliance, though, and to some extent of the Lib-Lab pact. He was generous in admitting to his early misjudgment of David Steel as a "parlour politician".
cyril was certainly right about the sdp and the alliance! one of the handful who kept the Liberal tradition alive in dark times - i hope he rests in peace.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?