Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Sir Cyril Smith & Great Men

THE descriptions of Cyril Smith's exploits with young lads in the early 1960s as 'doctoring with intent', would make a good metaphor for his intervention in Rochdale's politics in the last half of the 20th Century.  It was a form of tampering with the mechanics of political life in the town that deformed or some would have it enhanced political life in Rochdale.  I've known other figures like him in my life, I lived for a time in Spain under General Franco in the 1960s, Franco dominated Spain, its institutions and Spanish life for 36-years, and in Gibraltar, where I worked and lived in the late 1960s and 1980s, I met Sir Joshua Hassan, who was the Chief Minister there between the 11 August 1964 – 6 August 1969 and again between 25 June 1972 – 8 December 1987.   Both these men had a immense influence on there constituences:  the Spanish Caudillo (meaning chief or warlord) and the  Jewish Gibraltarian Chief Minister, and both were like Cyril larger-than-life figures.  But both, in a way, disabled their societies for years, Franco gave his people a kind of 'peace' but it was at the price of stiffling a free press and led to corruption and speculation in real estate; Sir Joshua secured Gibraltar and resisted a Spanish takeover but that too led to the cultivation of what George Borrow called the 'Rock rascal', smuggling and a society in which the rich didn't pay their share of the taxes.  When Cyril Smith died in 2010, Simon Danczuk MP for Rochdale, who raised serious issues about Cyril Smith in the House of Commons yesterday, said:
'Sir Cyril was a towering figure who cast a large shadow over the political landscape in Rochdale. His influence was felt everywhere. I could not but admire the fact that as a member of what was then a very small party he managed to win five elections in Rochdale as a Liberal. I think this would be very hard to achieve today. Remember when Cyril won the seat there were only a handful of Liberal MPs.  Sir Cyril was one of the first politicians of the TV age to use his personality and charisma to enormous affect. In that respect he was ahead of his time.' 

In the Bertold Brecht play 'Galileo' the leading charater says:  'God help the land that needs heroes', Rochdale and the English must learn to live without a need for great men.

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