Sir Cyril Smith dies

The former Lib Dem MP for Rochdale passed away this morning aged 82.

The former Rochdale MP Sir Cyril Smith died this morning.

Smith, 82, spent 20 years in parliament, serving between 1972 and 1992. He rose to Liberal chief whip under Jeremy Thorpe, but rejected frequent calls for him to run for party leader.

Born in Rochdale, he rose through the ranks in his home town, becoming a councillor in 1952 and then winning the 1972 by-election in a landslide to become MP.

His extrovert personality, coupled with his sheer size -- at one point he tipped the scales at a reported 29 stone -- meant that he was a well-known figure in Westminster. Frequent television appearances also made him familiar to Britain at large.

Smith was a vocal critic of what he saw as the political establishment, at one point referring to parliament as "the longest-running farce in the West End".

His tenure as an MP was not without controversy. In 1981, he argued vigorously against further regulation of asbestos use, at one point delivering a speech that had been largely written for him by the asbestos producer T&N. A year later, he declared 1,300 shares in the company.

Smith was awarded an MBE in 1966 and was knighted in 1988. He never married. When asked why, he replied: "I haven't had a lot of time for courting women . . . I've tended to be married to politics."

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.