RIP Cyril Smith

News has just reached the Voice that Sir Cyril Smith, for 20 years Liberal (then Liberal Democrat) MP for Rochdale, has just passed away.

Just over two years agho, Lib Dem Voice published an appreciation of Cyril’s life to mark his 80th birthday:

You’ve got to come to Rochdale to understand properly Sir Cyril’s popularity. He doesn’t get out much these days, but when he does… Rochdale comes to a standstill. Many people remember the Cyril from the 1970s and early ’80s. The Cyril who was Chief Whip during the Jeremy Thorpe scandal; the Cyril who appeared on national TV alongside his friends, the late Les Dawson, Ronnie Corbett, Bernard Manning, Jim Bowen, Jimmy Cricket and all the top comedians at the time; and the Cyril who constantly spoke up for his beloved town of Rochdale.

Looking back over Cyril’s life, he has achieved so much against all the odds. A look at his autobiography, Big Cyril, tells the story of someone who has given everything… and more! For any aspiring politician, the story of Cyril’s life is an amazing one and long may this continue. As the song goes… “Nice one Cyril!”

Update: Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg said this afternoon,

Cyril Smith was a larger-than-life character and one of the most recognisable and likeable politicians of his day.

I am deeply saddened to hear the news of his death today, and offer my sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Everybody in Rochdale knew him not only as their MP but also as a friend.

He was a true Liberal, dedicated to his constituency, always showing great passion and determination.

Cyril was a colourful politician who kept the flame of Liberalism alive when the party was much smaller than it is today.

Rochdale and Britain have sadly lost one of their great MPs, and I think we can safely say there will never be an MP quite like Cyril Smith again.

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This entry was posted in Obituaries.


  • if Spotland School is still there they should consider a statue of him…
    A real loss for liberalism – an unvarnished, honest and outspoken champion.

  • I feel so sad about this – Cyril was a wonderful kind hearted man as well as being a very able polititician. He lived in the same terraced house all his life – not the trappings of power for Big Cyril ! In my ward I represent – there are so many people who have fond memories of Cyril – Rochdale has lost a favourite son.

  • Tim Farron MP 3rd Sep '10 - 2:26pm

    Cyril was a larger than life politician who embodied everything that was good about Liberalism. He was a principled man who always put the people of Rochdale first. When I was growing up he was a political idol of mine – someone who was vocal and forthright and a passionate defender of the area he loved.

    Cyril never forgot his roots and spent most of his life in the same terraced house in Rochdale – I remember interviewing him in his front room about 15 years ago, he was an incredibly warm and fascinating guy. When the Liberals merged with the SDP in 1988 and we were on our lowest ever poll ratings, he brought the house down at a party meeting that I was at as a teenager when he said “well, you can’t blame the public can you? I mean even I wouldn’t vote for us at the moment!”

    The party has lost a true great and I like thousands of others mourn his passing and my thoughts and prayers are with his family today.

  • Chris Rennard 3rd Sep '10 - 4:34pm

    Cyril Smith was one of only four Liberal candidates who increased their share of the vote substantially in the 1970 General Election. All four of those candidates (the others were Ronnie Fearn, Cyril Carr and Wallace Lawler) were popular local Councillors who were effective community campaigners. Their relative successes helped to give me and others some of our inspiration for how an electorally successful Liberal Party might be created.

    When the Rochdale by-election occurred in September 1972, the Liberal Party had only six MPs (three in Scotland, one in Wales, one in Cornwall and one in Devon). When Cyril Smith won it, he became the only Liberal MP in England apart from John Pardoe in N Cornwall and Jeremy Thorpe in N Devon.

    Cyril’s victory in the by-election began the the Liberal Party revival of the early 70s. His agent John Spiller was one of my many mentors in the party. John made sure that Cyril wrote a personal note to everyone that he knew in the constituency inviting them to his adoption meeting and inviting them to be an official signatory on his nomination paper – more than 5,000 people signed them.

    The September Rochdale by-election win helped provide momentum and belief that Graham Tope could win Sutton and Cheam in the December by-election (masterminded by another of my mentors – Liverpool’s Trevor Jones and organised again by John Spiller. The community based campaigning approach from these campaigns (by now being spread by pioneers in places such as Pendle and LB Richmond) led to widespread Liberal gains in the 1973 local elections (inc control of Liverpool), two more parliamentary by-election gains that Summer and 29% in the national opinion polls that Summer.

    Cyril’s contribution to the survival and recovery of the party in this very difficult period following the debacle of the 1970 General Election was therefore immense.
    Cyril was also a personal inspiration to me when he frequently visited Liverpool. In the Edge Hill by-election (which again rescued the party from the disaster that it was facing in the last 70s) he was one of our most effective canvassers. Local people were surprised and delighted to see him when they opened their doors to him (he was wider than most of these doors). He was possibly the only man who could have got away with winking at the old ladies and saying “are you going to vote Liberal love? All the pretty ones do!”

    Cyril had big differences from time to time with party leaders and was often uncomfortable with strategies pursued by David Steel or Paddy Ashdown. He didn’t like the idea of an Alliance with the SDP (he wanted to “strangle them at birth” and he hated the idea of co-operation with “New” Labour. But when a by-election occurred in Littleborough and Saddleworth in 1995 (next to his former seat of Rochdale), he was one of the first people I rang to engage in the campaign.

    We polled the constituency and found that the most popular political figure in that constituency (some way ahead of Tony Blair at his peak) was the former Liberal MP for Rochdale. The by-election was one of the hardest that I ever ran – with Labour’s campaign run by Peter Mandelson and involving a huge effort and a viciously unpleasant campaign. Cyril’s endorsement and support for Chris Davies was crucial in our success and helping to show that the Lib Dems would not be steamrollered by the New Labour machine.

    Cyril was, of course, a huge factor in Paul Rowen winning back the Rochdale seat for the Lib Dems in 2005 and he was greatly disappointed that the seat was unexpectedly and narrowly lost in 2010. Cyril enjoyed and deserved the many standing ovations which I recall him receiving. Many of us will have many great memories of him and we will recall some strong disagreements – but above all we will remember his rapport with people that very few politicians could ever achieve and sustain.

  • Cyril Smith was a politician with a striking ability to relate to the “average” voter. I remember his visit to Hastings when I was agent back in the 1980s and he electrified a very well attended meeting on a hot summer’s evening. He knew how to work the local media and left our activists enthused and inspired. Another memory is of Cyril addressing a by-election meeting in Peckham in 1982 in support, I think, of Dick Taverne. Roy Jenkins was the other speaker and it made for an interesting contrast of styles. He was also the Chairman of the National Liberal Club at a difficult time and the Club was delighted when Paul Rowen presented it with a portrait of Cyril on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.

  • Simon McGrath 3rd Sep '10 - 6:10pm

    He once described me to a journalist as ‘a wretched young liberal’!

  • Anne Diamond 7th Sep '10 - 11:09pm

    It is a very sad day for Liberals passing of this great guy. I always had a great admiration for this person withhis a big personality taking his love of the world and reaching out to others

  • toryboysnevergrowup 8th Sep '10 - 9:41am

    “Everybody in Rochdale knew him not only as their MP but also as a friend.”

    This is just not true.

  • Deborah Gwilliam 22nd Apr '14 - 5:57pm

    Being a constituent of MP Tim Farron and deliverer of the Lib Dem newspaper, I wish to hear Tim Farron’s comments, following the shocking revelations regarding Cyril Smith, particularly as Mr Farron offered such praise for this man.

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