Conservative leader's column: the Rochdale by-election and the reopening of Rochdale Town Hall

Date published: 17 March 2024

John Taylor is the leader of the local Conservative party in Rochdale and a councillor for Wardle and West Littleborough.

This month he dedicates his column to the Rochdale by-election and the reopening of Rochdale Town Hall.

I wonder how history will recall the events we have witnessed here in Rochdale of over the last two or three weeks? Will it be for the reopening of our fantastic Grade I listed Town Hall or will it be for the election of our new Member of Parliament George Galloway? I would like it to be the former but I fear it will be the latter. We seem to lurch from the sublime to the ridiculous with Rochdale featuring in the national press on one hand for its brilliance in architectural restoration only for that to be tempered with the election of a highly controversial figure as our Member of Parliament and someone who has no connection to our town.

Our Town Hall is regarded as one of the UK’s finest examples of Victorian Gothic architecture and I was privileged to attend the reopening of it last week. The task has been mammoth and the results are truly breathtaking. Let me congratulate everyone who has had a hand in the transformation of our wonderful Town Hall from its initial concepts to the final delivery. I do believe we all owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who has been involved and if you haven’t visited yet, let me encourage you to do so to soak up the craftsmanship for yourself.

For several years before the restoration work commenced a small section of the ceiling in the great hall had been restored, giving us a glimpse into what could be achieved when the work was completed. The results have not disappointed. Our primary civic building is architecturally of national importance and proudly sits at the heart of our town, it is something we can all take pleasure, joy and enrichment from in equal measure and its invaluable contribution to our town will be a lasting legacy, touching the the lives of our citizens for many generations to come. Such a project doesn’t come cheap but it is, in my view, money well spent.

However, that splendour has been overshadowed by our recent Parliamentary by-election. As a constituency, we have collectively elected George Galloway to be our representative in parliament. I fear we have chosen the politics of division over cohesion for a few months at least. Several weeks ago I addressed Council on the Middle East conflict and my genuinely held belief how locally we must stand together as a community with a determined resolve to oppose localised tensions arising from such a terrible situation. I doubt our new MP shares my views.

George Galloway seems to be a political nomad who preys upon community vulnerability for his own self promotion. It is the role of our Member  of Parliament to represent Rochdale first and foremost, however, it was clear from his victory speech on election night how his interests in Rochdale are a lowly third on his list of priorities. 

The first words he uttered were “Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza” and those few words summed up his priorities very succinctly. I have no quarrel with his ongoing grievances with the Labour Party, in fact his presence at the local elections in May will now make for some very interesting results but his personal grievances should not override his responsibility to represent Rochdale and all of our residents as his first priority. 

Secondly, like most other people I am horrified at the events in the Middle East and urge all world leaders to find a lasting and peaceful solution. The horrors of the atrocities of 7th October and onwards are beamed into all of our homes on a daily basis and I’m sure every decent person across our Borough prays and longs for a peaceful and permanent solution. And yet, I do not want our town to be represented by an individual with no connection to Rochdale, who is driven by events on the other side of the world. 

Of course he is a seasoned politician who has very skilfully appealed to one section of our community but I genuinely believe we would be better represented by somebody who has a vested interest in Rochdale, someone who puts Rochdale first rather than third and someone who can appeal to a broader audience regardless of their political persuasion. It is for those reasons, I wholeheartedly believe the sooner George Galloway becomes George gone away the better it will be for our town.

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