Not long ago, Simon Danczuk was an unknown Labour backbencher famous for little else besides standing next to Gordon Brown during the 2010 ‘Bigotgate’ scandal and calling the police on hapless Energy Secretary Chris Huhne.
Fast forward to 2016 and you might well call him The Sun’s favourite gift that keeps on giving. As well as contributing a regular column to the tabloid for a time, Danczuk has also proved to be an infinite well of anti-Corbyn soundbites practically made for headlines and, in recent months, has become embroiled in the kind of scandal salacious enough to capture public interest without being sordid enough for anything more than a slap on the wrist suspension.
Last week, just as his name was beginning to leave the lips of commentators, he managed to kick up another tabloid frenzy by merely taking a selfie with Conservative councillor Louise Dickens. If the old adage ‘there’s no such thing as bad press’ holds true, might Danczuk be the most media savvy man in parliament?
The lunchtime Press Grill that I attended was located in the Grange Hotel by Tower Bridge, the relatively low turnout belying Danczuk’s blossoming press reputation. Throughout it all he lives up to his reputation (partially self proclaimed) of being a straight-speaking northerner, laying his layman’s boot into such Labour heavyweights as Ken Livingston, Ed Miliband and, of course, Jeremy Corbyn. He also makes sure that no-one can go away thinking he’s chasing headlines at the expense of his constituency. The phrase ‘the great thing about the people of Rochdale’ gets trotted out on at least five different occasions, as though his audience might hold some unspoken grudge against his chosen people. The subjects discussed ranged from media scrutiny to the EU Referendum and back again, and you can bet Simon Danczuk had a strong opinion on each and every one.
The first of the Labour greats of yesteryear to get a good Danczuk hiding is John Prescott. The former Transport Secretary was, according to Danczuk, weak when it came to readdressing the country’s transport investment imbalance to help the North catch up with the South. He reveals himself to be a big fan of the controversial HS2 plans, but would like to see more localised transport improvements to allow smaller towns such as Rochdale to become commuter hubs for growing cities like Manchester as well as linking the North West with the North East. Aside from transport quibbles Danczuk suggests a renewed investment in both the evening economy of towns culturally strapped for cash, as well as the creation of new Business Economic Zones that provide jobs for locals rather than bussing in their labour.
“Rochdale”, he exclaims proudly, “has the third highest level of refugee settlement in the United Kingdom”, taking in a reported 1,000 refugees while some local authorities have refused to accept any. Danczuk notes that, were every local authority were to accept 100 asylum seekers, the struggle to house them would be over instantly. He also warns that this imbalance in the concentration of refugees is bound to lead to an incident of some description. What this incident might be Danczuk doesn’t know, only that sharing the load across the country as well as the continent decreases that risk.
Being a media personality
Danczuk began his love/hate relationship with the press by utilising papers such as the Daily Mail as a ‘parapet’ with an expanded reach for him to highlight the prevalence of child abuse around Rochdale. His decision to use tabloid papers as his political weapon of choice transpired due to the massive audiences titles such as The Daily Mail and The Sun cater to. He compares this to the limited readership Jeremy Corbyn commands through the Morning Star and argues that any platform that can be used to bring important issues to the attention of the masses is invaluable. He does, however, admit that by raising his public profile in this manner he has also made him a target for the bloodthirsty tabloid press in much the same way as the similarly media-savvy Paddy Ashdown was back in the early 90s.
But “the thing about the people of Rochdale” is, according to Simon Danczuk, that they see him as one of their own and allegedly don’t pay heed to the bile aimed in his direction by the press. Whether this is completely true will be seen come the 2020 election, if not earlier.
The main reason anyone gathers to hear what Simon Danckuk has to say is, of course, the prospect of a classic anti-Corbyn rant from Labour’s most vocal dissident still (barely) in office. He doesn’t disappoint, claiming that the Labour Party Leader’s only decent quality is consistency before dismissing this as a rubbish quality to have as a politician. To him Corbyn is both a hopeless political romantic and a shady Machiavellian who only got into office in order to represent his own people. He argues that Corbyn only became leader thanks to the loophole in the leadership election of non-members paying £3 in order to vote for the candidate they thought would drag the party down most, paying little regard to the sheer magnitude of the Labour MP’s majority.
For Danczuk the problem came at the last leadership election, when the wrong Miliband brother won and began the party’s hard tack to the left of Blair’s New Labour. He points to 2015’s Conservative majority as evidence that the country rejects the party’s slide towards socialism and cites the need of a figure who can compromise to spearhead the party’s recovery. Amongst those he sees as suitable candidates to succeed Corbyn are Chuka Umunna, Dan Jarvis and Tom Watson; but one wonders if Simon Danczuk would actually get on well with any leader other than Simon Danczuk.
Danczuk argues that we are naturally European and share far more with the rest of the continent than we do with the United States. For him the EU is about far more than just trade, but the stability of peace in a region that has born witness to more serious and bloody wars that the rest of the world combined. The fact that the ‘tangential’ Corbyn’s support for the ‘In’ campaign exhibits a mere fraction of his enthusiasm for manhole cover photography also might have something to do with Danczuk’s sudden zealotry for closer EU ties, though he stops just short of advocating full federalisation.
Here Danczuk finally sets his crosshairs on a party other than his own, slating Cameron’s international standing and inability to win meaningful concessions from the EU on issues of sovereignty that actually matter. Danczuk proceeds to breakdown the values needed to be a successful Prime Minister, pointing to Harold Wilson’s guile and Tony Blair’s skill at reading the mood of the country as examples of true statesmanship. His unabashed adulation of Blair may put him at cross-purposes with the rest of his chosen party; but this is the place in which, as it becomes ever more apparent, Simon Danczuk thrives.