Rochdale is a town used to making the headlines for the wrong reasons. So the last thing it needs as it tries to rebuild its reputation is another sex scandal.
But following the child sex abuse revelations surrounding its former Liberal MP Cyril Smith, the satanic sex scandals of the 1990s and the child grooming case of 2012, the once-proud home of Gracie Fields and the Co-operative movement is once again in the spotlight.
The Labour MP Simon Danczuk’s admission that he sent lewd texts to a teenage girl comes amid pressing concerns for the town, which was labelled one of the worst places to make a living last year and which is recovering after its Esplanade was swamped by winter floods.
“Rochdale already has a bad name,” said Donna Pearson, 28, a mother-of-three who was shopping in Yorkshire Street. “It needs improving and bringing back up. This is the last thing we need.”
Her friend Louise Sunderland, 35, agreed. “Our MP needs to be there for the people of Rochdale,” she said. “He needs to be doing what’s important for local people and this isn’t good for Rochdale.”
Up the road in St Mary’s Gate, Mr Danczuk was at that moment being heckled by protesters demanding his resignation as he arrived at his constituency offices. “You’re not fit for office,” one shouted. “Resign.” A group of around 20 protesters including political opponents, former Liberal Democrat councillors and a number of recently joined Labour members had gathered outside the office earlier waving placards that said: “It’s time to go Simon. Rochdale has suffered enough.”
They then marched through town centre with a megaphone shouting: “We want Simon Danczuk out.” A woman emerged from a tanning salon off Yorkshire Street and shouted “witch-hunt” as they passed.
One Labour Party member, who asked not to be named, but revealed she had joined when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader, said she had joined the protest because Mr Danczuk was “a disgrace”.
“An MP has to put his constituents above everything, but his personal life is all over the place,” she said. “I’ll be pushing for him to go at the next party meeting.”
Mr Danczuk, who went out to meet constituents and said he received a positive response, said later that he was “quietly confident” that an internal Labour investigation would conclude his conduct does not warrant expulsion from the party.
He claimed the protesters were “malcontents” and did not represent the views of constituents. “I don’t believe for a second the people of Rochdale have any intention of listening to such a ragtag bunch of political opponents,” he said. “To a person, they were saying that I’ve made one or two mistakes, but they believed I was doing a good job for Rochdale and that I should continue as their member of Parliament.”
Down on Rochdale market, which was among areas flooded when the River Roch burst its banks after Christmas, some shoppers had a different view. “He’s a fool at his age to do what he did,” said one elderly woman, who asked not to be named. “He should have known better and he should go.”
Another, Margaret McClane, added: “He shouldn’t have done what he did and he should be doing more for the people of Rochdale.” But back at St Mary’s Gate, Susan Riley, 59, had just arrived at Mr Danczuk’s office to ask for his advice in applying for work. “I was born and bred in Rochdale. It has its problems,” she said. “It was a beautiful place 30 years ago. Now I can’t get a job.
“He’s helping me, he’s doing his job and that’s all that matters. I’m not bothered about his personal life.”
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