Sad news: Colin Rosenstiel has died

Many of his old friends and colleagues knew this was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when it actually happens:

I’ve known Colin for almost half my life. He was a stalwart of the original Lib Dem online community, Cix, back in the day – and in fact he was in there as recently as Saturday. I first met him in real life at the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election in 1995 where he delivered millions of leaflets.

He really was a proper, old school awkward liberal and he showed that off particularly well in the immigration consultation session in Southport in March, which was the last time I saw him. He was an incorrigible transport geek, so it was fitting that his last speech from the conference floor was on the emergency debate on trains.

He was a Councillor in Cambridge for 33 years. His wife Joye represented the same ward for 28 years.

He and I profoundly disagreed about a few things, most notably all women shortlists, but that didn’t stop us having our arguments and then going to the pub, virtual or otherwise,  and talking about something else. Over the years, I learned a lot from him about liberalism, about the importance of local government, about the history of the party. I always felt I never really needed to understand the intricacies of the Single Transferable Vote because there was always Colin. Heaven knows how this party would have conducted its elections without him. He was doing the job right from the start in 1988 and has a full record of all of them here.

His daughter lives in Edinburgh so he and Joye have come up here the last two years during the elections. They did a power of work writing and stuffing envelopes and talking about interesting things, contributing to the election of Alex Cole-Hamilton and Christine Jardine.

I’m going to miss his knowledge and generosity of spirit and stubbornness so much.

I know that many of you will have memories of Colin to share. Please do so in the comments.

Our love goes to Joye and all the family. Colin’s youngest grandson was born just last week.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Terrible news. I only met him a couple of times, but it was obvious he was devoted to the party, albeit from the awkward squad angle. Terrible news, just terrible.

  • Colin will be sadly missed both as a party campaigner and for his role in Electoral Reform.

    As a fellow STV nerd I had great pleasure in giving him copies of all 18 results sheets for the first Northern Ireland Assembly election in 1998,especially South Antrim. I also benefited from chats with Colin over many issues in Cowley Street, Cambridge and various conferences. He was a firm supporter of the cause of liberalism right across the UK.

  • Duncan Brack 9th May '18 - 3:19am

    He will be much missed. I got to know him when I was the party’s first Policy Director. Our first few years were financially very stretched, to put it mildly, so we did everything on a shoestring. For the party’s committee elections, which then took place every year (the electorate was restricted to conference reps, but that still meant about 1500 papers for each of three federal committees) I would drive the ballot box with all the papers up to Cambridge to be counted by a hall full of volunteers under Colin’s direction. Fairly early on he introduced the software that allowed us to input the preferences of each paper into computers, and he’d then conduct the count, stage by stage, with a whole bunch of us clustered round the screen watching. Much more fun than sending everything off to the ERS! Thank you, Colin, I hope you’re overseeing STV elections amongst the angels in Lib Dem heaven.

  • So sorry to hear this. Like Caron I first met Colin when I joined cix about 20 years ago. I quickly learned that his posts were always worth reading. Yes he could be geekish on subjects like STV and transport but it was endearing rather than annoying. Plus, he was a passionate Liberal and totally committed to this party, and that was always evident.
    In the final days of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 I told him I thought it might be close, and jokingly suggested he should come up and help. The next thing I knew there he was, handing out leaflets at the railway station. He only had half a day free and he must have spent more time travelling here than campaigning, but it was important to him to be here and do his bit.
    We’ve lost something a bit special. My thoughts of course go to his wife and family.

  • Very sad news. I think Colin was the first Liberal Councillor I met. I think he was still using the same bicycle 45 years later. My thoughts are with Joye.

  • Mark Goodrich 9th May '18 - 6:49am

    Sad news. In addition to the Lib Dem elections, Colin also conducted the STV counts for Cambridge University Student Union elections. I shall always remember those counts because I was involved in rather a lot of them…

    I have quite a few geeky stories involving RON but one I should share is when one of the earnest Labour Students appeared to be getting no first preferences at all. Eventually, long into the count, we got to Jesus College and he got his first preference. Quick as a flash, one of the volunteers said to him: “Well, you’ve got a friend in Jesus.”

    I learnt everything I know about STV from Colin and those counts. Condolences to Joye and his family.

  • I recall the announcement of the full STV results (with transfers) of one poll for party exec (as was) being sung as a duet … who was the other singer?

    What a sad loss….

  • I claim that I signed him up to the Cambridge University Liberal Club at the freshers’ fair in 1968, but he had been active, I think, in Putney Young Liberals before he went up to Cambridge. We didn’t have a candidate in Cambridge at the 1970 general election so a group of us went to Colne Valley to help Richard Wainwright, and after that to Chippenham. Later that summer Colin and I worked in Beaconsfield cold canvassing for the PPC, but his heart was in Cambridge because a by-election had been called in West Chesterton. I last saw him at the Eastleigh by-election when he stayed with me for a few days. He was unwell, but didn’t explain what was wrong. He went back to Cambridge earlier than he had planned, and as we walked to the station talked about the lamp posts, and the history of post war street lighting. So sad that all his erudition, energy and enthusiasm is no longer with us.

  • David Evans 9th May '18 - 8:02am

    A fundamentally good liberal. I can’t remember which conference I met him at, but he was clearly a dedicated liberal of the very best sort. He will be missed by so many people.

  • Catherine Smart 9th May '18 - 8:45am

    Some weeks ago, Colin asked me to put him on the list of those going to the Count, which as the Cambridge Agent, I was complying. I admit to some concern as I knew he was very ill and in and out of hospital, but did as he requested. He managed to come, watched with his usual interest ,including commenting on the “grass skirt” method of counting the by-election and, to his delight, he saw our candidate in Market ward win his old seat back. After he got home, he went down hill quite rapidly. It is somehow fitting that Colin spent some of his last hours at a Local Election Count.

  • Amy Dalrymple 9th May '18 - 8:58am

    I knew Colin from his time chairing the Electoral Reform Society. He wasn’t a natural chair or, as others have mentioned, a natural conciliator, but maybe that almost made him better at both. At least no-one could doubt his commitment to STV and I hope the Rosenstiel rules remain openly available for anyone conducting an election, so as to make the system as widely accessible as possible; I feel it would be fitting memorial.

  • David Howarth 9th May '18 - 9:51am

    All these descriptions of Colin are true – over the 40 years I knew him I saw many examples of his dedication to constitutional propriety, community politics (‘City Centre Circular’ was one of the original Focus leaflets, and one of the last to succumb to snappy messages and photo opportunities), local elections, leafleting, public transport, cycling, STV, real ale and Liberalism. But two other things should be mentioned. He was a political pragmatist and he was the most loyal colleague anyone could ever wish for. He was Deputy Leader of Cambridge City Council when I was Leader of the Council. From the descriptions here one might think that his natural political habitat was in opposition. But it wasn’t. He liked to get things done. For most of his time as a councillor that meant getting things done in his ward. But when we took control, it meant getting things done in the city. Those who remember him from the 1970s, when he was a leading light of the campaign to save the Kite area of Cambridge from redevelopment as a shopping centre might be surprised at the energy he put into as Deputy Leader of the Council to making sure that another city centre shopping centre succeeded. And he might have been a member of the awkward squad at party assemblies and conferences but when we were first in control of the council he was a force for moderation and conciliation within the group and even with the opposition.
    It seems inadequate to say that I will miss him. He was a fixed point in our lives and in the life of Cambridge and nothing will be quite the same without him.

  • As a long-time regular of the cam.misc and cam.transport usenet newsgroups since moving to the area in 1993, I encountered Colin (and a host of other people many of whom I haven’t actually met!) long before meeting him properly in Lib Dem circles, which of course has happened whenever the paths of Cambridge Lib Dems cross those of us South Cambs Lib Dems. He was an idiosyncratic and sometimes larger-than-life character – who even made the headlines in a bad way once in a while such as when witnessed losing his temper at a van driver parked in a cycle lane on Downing Street, Cambridge, as those his height somehow meant he would actually be a threat to someone!?

    I will remember him for his endless arguments with Roland Perry on cam.transport and cam.misc, more often than not about trains, something about which he seemed to know far too much. Every discussion seemed to end in lengthy argument of silly detail, to which I always thought “just get a room, you two!”. I heard that he was at the count last Friday, but I just checked on cam.misc and cam.transport and I think it looks as ifhis last contribution on cam.transport was back on 28th March…

    …in response to Roland Perry….

    …talking about platform 7 at Cambridge….

    Usenet will now be a little barren, I fear.

  • Erlend Watson 9th May '18 - 10:09am

    Colin was an absolute fixture running party elections when I first met him at Dundee Liberal Assembly 1985. I dont claim great experise in STV but can use it. And think a lot of that is due to Colin’s passion for it which came through when he conducted elections.

    I like to think that my tuppence towards his creation of ordered lists by STV was explaining the need for something more than order of election to the list when we were dealing with the first count for MEP lists. Colin created a system that created a proper result.

  • Chris Rennard 9th May '18 - 10:26am

    It was a great shock and a very sad moment when Colin told me about the state of his health when we met at the Southport Conference in March.

    He was not always an easy colleague to work with, but we were always friends since we got to know each other through our work on what was then called the Standing Committee of the ALC (Association of Liberal Councillors) in the 1980s. This group considered ourselves to be subversive of the mainstream Liberal Party in some ways and I think that it was right that we were. Many of us wanted the party to be be more distinctive and more purposeful, as well as better organised and more able to fight elections successfully at all levels recognising in particular the need to ‘build from the bottom up’. I think that we helped to make the Liberal Party, and then the Liberal Democrats, much more successful and it was the ground work of targeting seats at local level which later led to our major general election advances in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

    I also knew him through our time together on the Council of the Electoral Reform Society. We shared a passionate commitment to reform, seeking PR by STV, but we were both pragmatists in settling for the Roy Jenkins proposed system (AV+) as a step on the way if that was the best that we could get at the time. Sadly, the party would not settle for AV when it was offer, and we ended up with nothing changing for Westminster elections.

    Colin also worked closely with my colleagues in Cowley Street when I was Chief Executive using his IT skills and he played an invaluable role in the party’s internal elections and in documenting them on his website. He acted as a guardian of the party’s constitution, and the rules and procedures that went with it, although I never shared his enthusiasm for constitutional amendments.

    The party will not be the same without him and our condolences will be appreciated by Joye, his family and many friends.

  • Mick Taylor 9th May '18 - 11:40am

    I have known Colin since we were in ULS together. So probably around 50 years. Colin was totally dedicated to the party, even though he was often in disagreement with it. Like most people on this thread I had my differences with Colin, but they were always about policy and never ever personal.
    I have known Joye since she married Colin. They would have been married 40 years later this summer. Both of them had distinguished council careers. Colin’s tiny as deputy leader has already been mentioned but Joye was also Lord Mayor.
    Over the past year my wife Ruth and I have seen Colin and Joye quite a lot, because we have stayed with them on numerous occasions, first when Ruth’s daughter had leukaemia and then when we visited Rachel and family. They were unfailingly generous and we were very grateful for their support at our time of trial. When we visited in late January it seemed that the chemotherapy was working and that recovery was on the cards. Colin was still riding his bike to and from hospital. By conference it was clear that the chemo hadn’t worked and that he had only a few months left. I don’t think any of us expected the end quite so soon. When I spoke to him about a week ago he was his usual self, though he was on a nebuliser at the time. We had planned a visit for tomorrow, alas too late.
    I am glad that he managed to see his new grandson, second name Colin by the way.
    I will miss him a lot. Though he was always up for a good argument about this or that aspect of policy, he had a generous spirit and was fun to be with.
    Our hearts go out to Joye, a widow before she has even retired, and their children and grandchildren.

  • Jerry Froggett 9th May '18 - 12:13pm

    Whilst I’ve never been a Lib Dem, I just wanted to add my own words about Colin. I first knew him in the early 90’s when my mother was a Conservative City Councillor in Cambridge, and in fact she succeeded Joye as Mayor in 1995. As I assisted as her Consort, I got to know Colin and Joye, and found Colin (a fellow member of the Consort club) to be a wonderful human being, incredibly knowledgeable about all things Cambridge (and trains!) and hugely committed to his family, ward, and party. Cambridge City Council was, I am sure, worse off when he ended his time as a Councillor. I also used to enjoy the many rail journeys we shared between Cambridge and Kings Cross, normally accidentally by catching the same train on repetitive occasions, and always enjoyed the lively debate during the time we spent together despite our differences in opinion. Colin was one of a kind, and Cambridge will miss him terribly. My thoughts are with Joye and his family.

  • I knew Colin for well over 30 years, first as a work colleague and later on as a friend, Lib Dem activist, and fellow city councillor. He was great fun to sit next to during long, boring, council meetings because he could always be relied on for an entertaining (and accurate) critique of whatever the current speaker was saying. Equally some of my most enduring memories of that period are of sitting in meetings of the council group hearing the chair telling Colin over and over again, with a mixture of affection and exasperation, to shut up.

    We all loved and respected him enormously and relied on him for his encyclopaedic knowledge of matters political, and we all knew that any meeting he was in was likely to be a long one.

    His untimely death is a tragedy for Joye and for his children and grandchildren and a huge loss for those of us who knew him.

  • Martin Pierce 9th May '18 - 2:28pm

    I first met Colin in a room in Corpus Christi college in Cambridge in 1983, where the Cambridge Uni Liberal Club had its weekly Sunday teas. I swear he was unchanged in those 35 years. Many have commented on the Rosenstiel bike which made many appearances in City Centre Circular (still called that in honour of its pre-Focus invention, like Comments in Richmond) – and ALWAYS pride of place on his election addresses. Caron mentioned counting elections ‘from the start’ – but I think he counted Liberal Party elections before that? Certainly as has been commented he counted Cambridge Uni Student Union elections – very complex for STV eg NUS delegation of 12 places with 3,000+ votes – I think I got elected on the 28th count once. This was all done with a series of gradually less primitive computers – I remember the BBC Model B era very well. Most recently Colin was among just 10 people (Joye being another) who attended both the CULC Centenary dinner in 1985 and the 130th anniversary dinner in 2016 (don’t ask about the mismatch). It’s truly very fitting that he saw ‘Lib Dem gain’ (one more to go but we’re nearly there) in his beloved Market ward last week.

  • Tony Dawson 9th May '18 - 2:36pm

    ” proper, old school awkward liberal”

    We need more ‘new school’ such people.

    RIP Colin.

  • Tony Hill: “I signed him up to the Cambridge University Liberal Club at the freshers’ fair in 1968”. And it was I who had signed Tony up to the Liberal Party a year previously, (and, later, introduced Tony to Litho printing).
    I hadn’t known about that connection to Colin, but I first met him at CULC events back then; 50 years, it doesn’t seem so long ago.
    As others have said, Colin ran the STV counts for Liberal Party and then Liberal Democrat committee elections for many years. Before he had a program on a BBC Micro, this was done by hand, by volunteers under Colin’s direction. I still remember his process of putting piles of votes UNDER the table. Then bringing out one pile at a time. Thus avoiding the risk that some keen helper will count the wrong pile, or mix them in with the current pile.
    As I’m sure you all know, once you get to the stages of redistributing ballots for multi-member bodies, you need to allocate the remaining fraction of winning candidates’ votes, and then the votes of each candidate having the fewest total votes, until you have the requisite number elected. Keeping piles of ballot papers segregated and then processing them in the right order is key to this process.
    Colin and I were both elected as Liberal Councillors in 1973. Colin and Joye between them then continued to represent Market Ward, Cambridge for over 40 years – a record few others can match.
    If you look for @CRRosenstiel on Twitter you’ll see that among his last tweets, Colin celebrated our superb victory last week in nearby South Cambridgeshire; I am so pleased he was able to see that.

  • Peter Chivall 9th May '18 - 3:57pm

    I first knew Colin through my then Mother in Law Mavis Middleton. She was enthusiastic over his fight to save The Kite from redevelopment in his Markets Ward. That was in the 1970s. I last remember meeting him in a debate at Conference (?)when he referred to “following his friend Peter”. I was, and always will be proud to be called a friend by such a great Liberal. My thoughts and best wishes go out to Joy and his family.

  • Sandy Walkington 9th May '18 - 6:11pm

    This is awful news. Because I no longer go to Conference, I had no idea Colin was ill. I first met him in 1972 as a Cambridge fresher. Joy will correct me but I think I was there when they first met. I have nothing to add to the comments above. It is a terrible loss to the Liberal family.

  • The first Liberal councillor I ever met. And the first I helped get (re-)elected. Someone who demonstrated the worth in putting local government involvement before career. His commitment to the ward where he lived was second to none.

    And he was right, too, in opposing the party’s drift toward discriminatory selection.

  • David Franks 9th May '18 - 6:26pm

    Over more years than I care to count Colin was a truly dedicated Liberal and a good friend to the party in Luton when we had some difficult times. He and I were fully qualified members of the awkward squad and I learned a lot from him, especially over when to dig your heals in and when to find another way. Very sad news, I think we know that Joye has loads of support from family.

  • Richard Fagence 9th May '18 - 8:30pm

    As someone who has attended conference – both Spring and Autumn – for over twenty years, I have always been aware of Colin’s presence and influence. As someone said, a genuine, fully paid-up member of the Awkward Squad who always made a difference because he made you think. You didn’t always end up agreeing with him, but the process taught you something and grew your perception. I treasure one memory of him – and Joye – on Newcastle Station with close on an hour to wait for the London train after conference at Gateshead. Robert Woodthorpe Browne, Colin, Joye and me -the junior partner – and a wide-ranging discussion over tea on matters relating to the conference, not relating to the conference, trains and the network, the next elections, the last elections, Europe, international matters and everything else. A master seminar in Things That Matter. I shall never forget it. The mark of an important man is that your views are changed by meeting him and hearing him. Thank you, Colin, I shall always be grateful for that hour.

  • Sandra wilson 9th May '18 - 10:59pm

    Very sad to hear this news. I served as a Labour Councillor between 91 and 95 and had great respect for Colin, his work for the community as well as his comprehensive knowlege of election results across the whole country, my thoughts are with the family please accept my sincerest condolences.

  • Bill le Breton 10th May '18 - 9:05am

    There are some wonderful comments above and I hope that these will be a comfort to Joye at this very difficult time.

    But there was a particular quality of Colin’s that seemed absent in those remarks and which I just couldn’t put a finger on – then in an email today from John Tilley, who among many things had one particular matter in common with Colin, he expressed it; “(Colin) saw it as his responsibility to sort out the mess that others had left.”

    He did that so well, so unfailingly well. And in so many spheres. That is less ‘being awkward’, than just insisting that things be put right and doing it himself if necessary. He was therefore a true, dedicated, selfless facilitator – a giver of freedoms and opportunities to others and to his Party.

    Thank you Colin.

  • Peter Hirst 11th May '18 - 5:40pm

    He was also a faithful proponent of electoral reform, being well regarded by The Electoral Reform Society in which he was on the Council for many years and I think Chairman on at least one occasion.

  • Frank Cowell 19th May '18 - 9:40am

    Very sad.

    Colin and I were fellow travellers, Cambridge to King’s Cross. I think I saw him in so many modes, railway know-all, computer geek, trouble magnet. But he was essentially very kind.

    We used to bump into each other once or twice every week. There was a long period after his retirement when this did not happen. Then recently it happened again. The same old Colin, babbling on about the new non-stop Cambridge-Brighton service that he was trying out. But as we got out in the crowd surge at King’s X, he announced, “this will be the last time you see me…”. What!!

    His geekiness and kindness worked in my favour. After a cycling accident some years ago he looked with great interest at some photos a friend had taken of the scene. On the strength of a tiny detail he had spotted, he recommended that I claim from the County Council. Colin, mate, I still owe you a share of the 10 grand…

  • That’s two old true Liberal friends gone not long after I met them at a conference. Brian Lomax and then Colin.

  • Sitting on a Thameslink train yesterday at Kings Cross on my way to Colin’s memorial event and hear that the train is cancelled – and the one after that, and the one after that. What I needed was Colin’s expertise to get me there by some byzantine alternative route, but…..

  • Peter Wadhams 23rd Jul '18 - 3:06pm

    Very sad news. Have lived in the same street as Colin since 1977 and have always found him absolutely indefatigable in the service of the local people and their needs. Somehow he was always there, not craven like other local politicians but always ready to help and fight if necessary. We will miss him. And thank you, Joye, for your time as Mayor. Enjoyed your visit to Scott Polar Research Institute,
    Best wishes
    Peter Wadhams

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