Updated: Monday, 20th November 2017 @ 5:34pm

General Election 2017: Labour Rochdale split hands opportunity to opposition

General Election 2017: Labour Rochdale split hands opportunity to opposition

| By Seamus McDonnell

Rochdale has been no stranger to political controversy, and the upcoming election sees the town balanced on a knife-edge.

The constituency has previously been a very close seat, decided by only 889 votes in 2010.

Incumbent MP Simon Danczuk was able to consolidate his position in the 2015 election but scandals surrounding his private life have driven him out of the Labour Party and once again opened up the field to new candidates.

Danczuk himself will run as an independent, despite an incident involving sending sexual explicit text messages to a 17-year-old girl which saw him suspended by his party from December 2015 until he resigned in early May this year.

In his place, the Labour Party has selected Tony Lloyd as candidate for the seat.

Lloyd was previously MP for Stretford and Manchester Central for a combined 29 years before becoming Manchester’s first police and crime commissioner.

His name was also associated with the newly formed Manchester Metropolitan Mayor but the backing of the Labour Party, and eventually the job itself, went to Andy Burnham.

The two candidates will compete for the traditional Labour vote in the town, with Danczuk denouncing the party largely because of his public disdain for its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as the self-professed poor treatment he has received.

Meanwhile, other political forces have gathered in the constituency with both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party seeing a chance to capitalise whilst the Labour vote is split.

Jane Howard, the Conservative Party candidate, told MM she felt ‘quietly confident’ of success despite being in an area where her party has not held office since 1951.

Her challenge would mimic the arguments of the national stage and she expects the issue of Brexit negotiations to effect the outcome.

The Conservatives have placed Britain’s exit from the European Union at the centre of their plans and, in a constituency that voted overwhelmingly to leave (60.1%), the idea of continuity in leadership during discussions could be a strong argument.

This view on Brexit is also shared by UKIP candidate Christopher Baksa, who wants to continue his party’s progress in the area after they came second to Labour in 2015.

On the other hand the Liberal Democrats, represented by Andy Kelly, have committed to maintaining certain ties with the European Union as well as offering a referendum on accepting any deal that may be reached.

In Rochdale, the Liberal Democrats, and previously the Liberal Party, have been an important political body.

LOCAL HERITAGE

Historically, the office has switched between them and Labour since the 1950s and the last MP, who lost to Danzuk by 889 votes, was a representative of the party, Paul Rowen.

However, the party suffered heavily in Rochdale following revelations about long-serving MP Cyril Smith who was heavily linked to a number of child sex allegations after his death.

Kelly will hope to better the party’s fourth place in 2015 and believes his local heritage gives him an edge in the election.

He told MM how growing up and living his life in the town helped him to understand the issues faced by people.

Kelly said: “If you come to me on the 9th of June I will still be here. Even if I lose I will still feel a responsibility for the town.”

He compared his campaign to Tony Lloyd’s, claiming Labour ‘take Rochdale for granted’ by bringing in a candidate that was not from the area and wouldn’t understand the issues.

Similarly, Howard talked of the importance of local knowledge to voters.

She said: “I am home grown, Rochdale born and bred. I have lived here all my life and I’m not a career politician.”

The connection between the candidates and the town holds special importance in this situation as many people point to improving the image of Rochdale as one of the key priorities.

In this vain the fact that he is not from the town and doesn’t understand the importance of certain issues, has been the main critique of Lloyd.

But the ex-parliamentary Labour Party chair will hope that the strong party following in this constituency, coupled with his long political career, will be enough to gain the confidence of voters.

Similarly, Danczuk will hope he can tap into the votes he received in 2015 and convince voters that the work he has done in the town, including helping victims of the major grooming scandal, proves he is qualified to remain as MP.

He pointed out to MM that he had already been in the job since 2010 and said: “I believe my track record shows I have the qualities to remain Rochdale's Member of Parliament.”

With the election fast approaching all the candidates will feel they have a chance of becoming the town’s representative in Westminster.

It is hard to tell who will win in Rochdale but it is clear that the result of this constituency could resonate on a national level.

Image courtesy of Simon Danczuk via YouTube, with thanks.