Tuesday, 14 September 2010

I first met Cyril in a Mini car...

Yesterday was Cyril's funeral held at Rochdale Town Hall. The BBC appropriately decided show a programme on Golden Age of Northern Civic architecture which featured the gothic glory of Rochdale. I got to thinking about the times I met Cyril.

When I was a student there were a string of by elections. Cyril's victory in Rochdale was the first, it was followed by success at Sutton and Cheam-where I much of my spare time in the Autumn term delivering, Berwick upon Tweed, Lincoln ( I didn't go there) Ripon, Liverpool Edge Hill, and the Isle of Ely all of which we won. But I think that it was at the Uxbridge by election that I met Cyril first.

The ALTU chair, Ian Stuart, was the candidate who lost his deposit even though polling day was on the same December day as Graham Tope's triumph in Sutton. Most Young Liberal spent their time helping Tope but a few of us decided that a token visit to Uxbridge was in order. We spent the day handing out leaflets at the railway station and in the evening we went to the public meeting where Jeremy Thorpe was the speaker and Alan Sherwell and I cadged a lift home with him.

As I recall, and it was 38 years ago, Cyril turned up with an LPO employee in a mini. I sat in the back! I came across Cyril often after that and although we didn't always agree he didn't seem to hold it against me too much. I spoke immediately before him in a Liberal Assembly debate on strategy-in those days we had endless debates about strategy -he and I were taking a line somewhat different to the leadership and he was very reassuring. He spoke for me at the 1983 General Election when we held an open air meeting in the Lord Street gardens in front of what is now the Vincent Hotel. Years later he came to Middlewich where we failed to persuade him to get on a trailer Ged Devaney had rigged up with a sort of throne on it. Instead we drove around and I remember introducing him to a pensioner who had been christened with the middle names Lloyd George in honour of the introduction of the Old Aged Pension.

There is no doubt he could be difficult and there are times when he didn't always understand what was going on-particularly at the beginning of the Thorpe affair. He had a strong sense of individual rights and privacy. You wonder today whether his father would not have been 'outed by the media'. As others have noted his Unitarianism was central to his belief system .

There is little doubt that there were some who didn't rate Cyril. I remember one leading 'adviser to the Leader' briefing the press that he was just fat. But for the foot soldiers he kept us going and was one of the few Liberals who managed to get himself heard -even if you weren't quite sure what he was going to say.

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