WHAT IS IT ABOUT ROCHDALE? Its 95,796 residents have had to put up with a lot of bad publicity in recent years; and it continues today by the revisiting of an old sore.
The town was in the headlines in 2012 when a gang of Asians groomed then abused and raped vulnerable young girls. Despite 83 formal attempts by health workers between 2004 and 2010, to warn of what was occurring, Rochdale Borough Council, social services, and the local police, remained unconcerned or cynical - fear of upsetting the Muslim sensibilities both locally and nationally appears to have played its part in the various indifference to what was going on among the various agencies.
It was indifference of another kind that let the people of Rochdale down in the 1970s. This time mouths remained tightly shut because of a powerful local individual, and national treasure.
The morbidly obese local MP Cyril Smith indulged his perversions on children living at the 50 bed Knowl View residential home for children with learning difficulties. The 29 stone Liberal MP became a pal of Jimmy Savile, after the latter invited onto his Clunk Click show on the BBC; thus a friendship was born.
Rochdale's current MP, Liberal Democrat Simon Danczuk, along with Matthew Baker, have written an account of the period published as Smile For The Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith, and serialised by the Daily Mail.
If Cyril had been born a 100 years earlier, his parents would have pitched a tent at some fairground and charged people to gaze upon his enormous bulk. The fairground and the tent however seemed to be the perfect metaphor for his appearances on television. He was popular, and people tuned in amazed, at first by his size but latter, after the initial fascination with weight and volume had passed, affection took over.
As with Savile, Cyril Smith was popular; and with popularity comes respect from the media (It's all part of the celebrity culture). In Rochdale Smith was powerful… even untouchable; just as Savile was at the BBC. Rumours abounded about his true nature within parliament. When David Steel, the leader of the Liberal Party, heard rumours of the unnatural sexual peculiarities of Cyril Smith, his spokesman's reply was: ‘All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms.’ David Steel, who knighted Smith, has yet to comment on the current media interest in Smith.
But there was another scandal of a none sexual nature that ultimately destroyed Smith's popularism, and as always it was money rather than sex that reduced Smith nationally. Smith owned 1,300 shares in Turner and Newall, a company manufacturing asbestos when the appalling dangers of the substance were becoming known. In 1981 he asked the company to formulate a speech, in which he pronounced: "The public at large are not at risk" from their product.
But in 2008, long after the dangers of asbestos were known, there were calls for Smith to be stripped of his knighthood; a call that the present leader of the Liberal Democrats, rather belatedly, now endorses. At the time Smith declared that the estimated 4,000 deaths a year through asbestos was 'relatively low'.
NICK CLEGG is in denial. Denial that he ever knew what Cyril was up to either sexually or in his associations with Turner and Newall. It was long before his time and he knew nothing about both. I cannot believe that any leader of such a party with such a past, and with such an individual among its ranks, could have known nothing about it. It afflicts common reason. But such afflictions among politicians are not uncommon.
Clegg must have known of Smiths reputation, as he must of known of Lloyd George's. Naivety on such a scale, if it exists in a politician, ill equips him or her for the office of leadership. Better it would have been for Clegg to have admitted to knowledge of the rumours about Smith before he became party leader.
If he truly believes that he knew nothing of such activities, then he should never have been elected. His intellectual shallowness regarding his knowledge of his own party's history should never have elevated him to its leadership. All parties have warts, including the Liberal Democrats, and it is no good pretending that his party bears little resemblance to the old Liberal party that Cyril Smith was a part of.
The trouble is, Clegg had praised Cyril Smith as a ‘beacon and an ‘inspiration’ on his 80th birthday in 2008, and said he was ‘deeply saddened’ at his death two years later. The Liberal Democrats were founded in 1989, and Nick Clegg uses this date to plead 'ignorance' of Cyril Smith's sadistic behaviour.
I know Clegg spent many of his student years, and some his formative political years in Europe, as a tea maker to Leon Brittan in Brussels. But he must have grasped some history of the party he felt himself born to lead. It is my guess that as the Liberal Democrats were the unquestioned true believers in the great enterprise of a federal Europe; Nick jumped aboard. He had found his political niche.
In truth his ignorance regarding the history of the Liberal and later the Liberal Democrat Party, was sincere. Cyril Smith would have meant as much to Clegg as the existence of UFOs. He, in all probability, knew of this monster and his reputation but never thought that through his own ambitious political passage, Smith would become an issue.
DAVID STEEL, on the other hand, who has until now been allowed to remain silent; should be asked to give an interview. For it was he, more so than Nick Clegg, who must have been aware of Cyril Smith's sadism.
Steel let the rumours flourish; as his spokesman at the time noted: ‘All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms.’ Cyril Smith was a star act for the Liberal Party. In terms of popularity he measured his own with David Steels, and was a populist asset for a party in decline.
Cyril 'Jabba the Hutt' Smith was a monster that destroyed young lives and whose bestiality was allowed to continue through fear, and the cowardliness of those who spread the rumours in not coming forward. As with Savile it was the cravenness of those around him who clung like barnacles to the hull of the capital ship in the fleet.
In Savile's case it was BBC programme makers, technicians and producers, as well as the press. In Smith's case it was the politicians from all parties that listened to the rumours, and remained silent…and of course, once more the (especially tabloid) press.
Clegg must have known, as did much of the media at the time. I dislike Clegg; I dislike his politics and his mendacity when in his party's 2010 manifesto he supported an in/out referendum on Europe. But on this issue, Lord Steel should be the one being hounded by the Daily Mail. It was he after all who had the real insight into what was happening but still carried on using Smith's popularity to his Party's advantage.