Saturday 14 January 2017

Dan Hope: the Barnet Bugle - a tribute

I can't remember, now, when I first met the Barnet Bugle: probably at a council meeting, maybe six years or so ago. 

I found him, at first, an infuriating figure - a Tory blogger, determined to wind up the new wave of lefty, trouble making rivals - an irascible, pugnacious, deliberately provocative character, who argued even more than I do. Impossible man. I could not understand why anyone would want to have anything to do with him. 

Within a short while, of course, we were the best of friends, and co-conspirators, in secret, while maintaining the usual hostilities, in public, for the sake of appearances. And in order for him to hide the fact that underneath his bluff exterior, he was in fact a sensitive, and even shy man: something of a maverick, always on the edge, looking in.

And when I had heard he had died this week, I was devastated, and wept like a child. 

Who would have thought it, Dan Hope?

I couldn't attend his funeral yesterday, unfortunately, having spent the past few weeks immobilised by a serious back problem. Instead I watched the snow falling, in my garden, and thought guiltily about his mourners, standing in the bleak weather in the cemetery to pay their last respects. 

So now here, instead, is my tribute to him.

The Barnet Bugle and the Barnet Eye

When I started writing about Broken Barnet, the Bugle was already a fixture of that new phenomenon: the emerging blogosphere - a collection of disaffected residents, citizen journalists, and armchair auditors, created by the self perpetuating forces of inertia that protect the vacuum of political life in this borough. The new bloggers, in other words, represented a movement forged in despair at the policies of a rabid Conservative administration, stuffed full of empty headed neo-Thatcherites, the lack of effectual opposition by the Labour group, and an absence of any real scrutiny by the local press.

Dan Hope was, unlike most of the Barnet bloggers, a Tory: of sorts, and not the sort running Barnet Council. 

He had been a councillor: a Conservative member, edged out by internal politics in the Chipping constituency, and the wider group - then ruthlessly removed; treated shabbily by his former colleagues, an experience that left him with little sympathy for the administration then dominated by current MP Mike Freer and his chum Brian Coleman. 

Before the 'Barnet Bugle' had been invented, Dan was a partner in the first Barnet blog, 'Statler and Waldorf', as explained here by his friend and fellow pioneer blogger 'Don't Call Me Dave', David Miller, son of the late Tory peer Doreen Miller - and formerly Chair of Chipping Barnet Conservatives. 

The reason that both these Conservative bloggers were driven to write about the actions of their former colleagues is better understood after reading DCMD's tribute to the Bugle, written this week:

Daniel was a passionate believer in open and transparent government, local and national: a principled stand that made him many enemies within the higher echelons of Barnet Council, where the culture of secrecy and obfuscation is ingrained into every fibre of its being. Indeed, the way that he was treated by some of his so called Council colleagues was nothing short of a disgrace, effectively forcing him out of the Council and the Conservative Party; not that this ever stopped him campaigning for a Conservative government and the pursuit of proper Conservative policies.

When DCMD started his own Blog, Daniel provided much needed technical support with the preparation of pictures and videos. In recent years, Daniel tirelessly attended council meetings to record them for the Barnet Bugle. He asked the questions which Councillors were often too lazy or scared to ask for themselves.

Daniel’s legacy will be that he stood up for what he believed in, and would not be bullied into silence or submission, as were so many councillors seeking to climb the greasy pole of higher allowances. 

They say that vengeance is a dish best served cold: and Dan Hope delivered his own revenge, over the years, by coolly, calmly and methodically holding up the mirror to the antics of his former colleagues, and showing it to the wider world.

He dedicated the next few years to holding to account the successive Tory administrations who have had their sweaty grip on this borough. Or did, until their fingers were prised from the controls, by Crapita.

And he did so by pioneering a new form of scrutiny: by filming council meetings, and posting the footage on his blog: something that seems routine now, but was a courageous activity at the time, met with ill tempered reaction from the Tory councillors and their officers. In Wales one local blogger was arrested merely for daring to film part of a council meeting on her phone, and no doubt some of the Tory members in Barnet would happily have seen the same consequences fall on the head of Mr Hope, and all the rest of the bloggers sitting in the public gallery. 

Unfortunately for the Barnet Tory junta, and all similar councils throughout the UK, in fear of the new emphasis on transparency, the new role of citizen journalism was one approved of and encouraged by then Secretary of State for local government, Eric Pickles,  a politician much admired by Dan Hope.  Pickles compelled local authorities to become more accountable to their residents and tax payers and sanctioned - no, actively encouraged - the use of filming, tweeting, and allied activities. 

Tory Barnet, the self styled 'easycouncil' model of outsourcing, and flagship of hardline Tory policies suddenly found itself at the centre of a perfect storm of media attention: social media, and then national, mainstream press, fascinated by the reports by bloggers of an emerging resistance by local residents and campaigners to the devastating double whammy impact of swingeing cuts, and mass privatisation.

Dan Hope filming at the occupation of Friern Barnet library

The beginning of this new era kicked off with the 'MetPro' scandal: it turned out that the jackbooted thugs used by the Tory councillors to provide security at the Town Hall, and elsewhere, including, according to the company's claims, work with vulnerable children, were an illegally operating, unlicensed operation, hired in circumstances that were never fully explained - and paid in the absence of any contract or monitoring of their activities. They had tried - physically, and in defiance of police instructions on the night - to bar bloggers and residents from the council's budget meeting, stop them filming, and indeed were later proved to have been covertly filming bloggers, including me. 

We then revealed the wider story: that the authority had thousands of similar cosy arrangements with private contractors - without contracts in place.

Pickles was furious, and made a speech castigating the Tory run council - and praising the Barnet bloggers. 

From that moment the tables were turned: and filming and reporting the minutiae of every important meeting or event has become a matter of routine. 

It is difficult to explain the significance of this: the filming so lovingly and attentively maintained by Dan Hope not only preserved a record of the meetings themselves, and opened up the process of 'democracy' to the people of Barnet, it provided evidence for legal challenges, and has had a direct and lasting impact on the political landscape - no longer could members evade responsibility for the things they said, and did: it was all a matter of public record.

From an initial position of mutual mistrust, based on our political allegiances, the Bugle and Mrs Angry found common ground in many areas, and forged an unlikely alliance, behind the scenes - and we had a lot of fun, in secret, exchanging information, and plotting tactics to undermine the best laid plans of the knaves and fools in charge of our borough council.

It is true to say he was very good at winding people up, and even upsetting them, often just for the hell of it, very naughty - argumentative and provocative on twitter to the extent even I ended up blocking or muting him, most of the time, (although still reading his tweets in secret) as I couldn't bear the endless rows he created, out of sheer mischief. But he genuinely enjoyed debate, and his intelligence, and low threshold of boredom, demanded the stimulation that such interaction supplied, even if it ended in disagreement. Especially if it ended in disagreement: much more fun.

Dan Hope was a loyal friend to those few Tory councillors who stood by him: he was appalled by the treatment of Kate Salinger, in 2010, vilified and publicly humiliated by her so called friends in the Conservative group, simply for following her conscience and refusing to vote with the rest of the craven Tories for a whopping hike in their own allowances, at the same time the party was lecturing residents about austerity and the need for devastating cuts in local public services: a move that Dan had spotted, late one night, being sneaked onto the agenda at the last minute.

Dan was an absolute stickler for protocol, and the constitution: doing things the right way. If he spotted something was wrong - it was wrong. He knew. He would sit there, in the gallery, behind his camera, sighing loudly, and shaking his head, muttering.

As well as the news of his death being covered by the local Times and Press, and Evening Standard, many tributes on social media have been paid to him: tributes from those of a range of political allegiances and backgrounds: 

Here are just a few of those: 

Sarah Sackman, former Labour candidate, Finchley & Golders Green:

A Labour councillor in Camden:

From Jeremy Newmark, Chair of Jewish Labour:

From Marcus Dysch, political editor of the JC:

A mensch. He would have liked that: and he was.

Many of the comments made by friends in the Tory party stress his loyalty to Conservative values - and indeed he was a Tory, but his values, and his sort of Conservatism, were not those of the majority of members sitting on the benches of the Town Hall in Hendon. He had liberal views, clear sight, and a vision that was rather more progressive and intelligent than that of any of his former colleagues, and unlike them, was prepared to fight for what he believed in, rather than keep his heads down, go along with the blundering administration which they support, while keeping their allowances, and taking turns at dressing up as Mayor, which is all most of them really care about.

His choice of words for his twitter profile said it all, really:

Provoking thought. Challenging nonsense. Shaking things up. Stimulating debate. Right of centre hue.

Right of centre hue: but the word Conservative missing, you will note. He was too independently minded to find an easy definition of his political views, or perhaps a fixed place within any definition. 

The truth was Dan often preferred the company of the lefty leaning bloggers he loved to annoy, and local activists, to the members of his own party - and often accompanied us to the pub and other social events: and even to the Labour Conference, where he always had a wonderful time. After one leader's speech, readers, he even broke the habit of a lifetime, and bought Mrs Angry a drink. And possibly a bag of crisps. An official photograph was taken, to record the occasion: 

Hang on: just remembered at another hotel, at another conference, he bought me a glass of champagne, in tribute to what he alleged was my preferred form of socialism. 

Cheers, Dan

On one memorable night at a Manchester conference, he insisted on dragging me to a Hacked Off meeting (deeply tedious, but with a generous amount lot of free wine, which he made good use of) and then we met up again at the Labour Friends of Israel, where, after a catastrophic amount of even more alcohol, and no food, we ended up disgracefully drunk, and spending the early hours chatting to Jon Snow, sitting on the floor outside the gents in the Midland Hotel, engaged in an apparently fascinating conversation, the details of which neither of us could remember the next day. Or since.

Mrs Angry awoke, the next day, in fact, with a terrible headache, wincing at the early light of dawn, and tweeted: 

Someone please turn the sun off. 

The Bugle tweeted back: 

The sun: Someone please turn Mrs Angry off.

Bugle also went off to one of the Tory conferences, and bumped into his idol, Eric Pickles. He introduced himself, and took it upon himself to pass on Mrs Angry's good wishes, claiming Uncle Eric flushed becomingly, and beamed with delight. Naturally. But Dan really admired Pickles's attempt to work against the instincts of his own party in local government, and force them to be accountable to their communities. And the Bugle was part of that process, right from the beginning.

Dan was always present, at every political event, here in Barnet: meetings, protests, conferences, late night election results - there he would be, with his camera, determinedly capturing the scene for posterity. 

And now posterity has captured the Barnet Bugle - and things will never be the same.

We will all miss you, Dan. 

Rest in Peace, friend.


Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mrs Angry

A very warm and generous tribute to a warm and generous man. That it will wind up many of the people who conspired against Daniel is an added bonus.

Although I moved away (escaped?) from Barnet more than three years ago, I was in regular contact with Daniel who kept me updated as to the latest shenanigans within the Town Hall. I do hope that the disinfectant of sunshine which he brought to official proceedings will continue in his absence.

Mrs Crazy said...

Losing a close and trusted friend at the beginning of a new year in Broken Barnet is especially distressing.

I don't know him but have read his material on the internet; he did bring matters out in the open and helped many to understand what is going on in Barnet.

Condolences to his family and all his friends. We have his legacy on accountability and transparency in Broken Barnet to guide and encourage those he left behind. I am sure there is nothing more pleasing for Dan's family than to know that he was very much loved and respected and that his work will be carried on by others like yourself.

Such sweet sorrow but keep the faith; he won't be forgotten.

Kate Salinger said...

Daniel Hope was a true and loyal friend to Brian and I. He was an assiduous ward councillor plus being a thoughtful, progressive and innovative member of the Conservative Group. Sadly, by late 2005, this group was changing for the worse and free thinkers were not encouraged He was deselected in Brunswick Park because he stood up for what he believed in and would not bow to the majority. He never did and I admired him greatly for that.

Everyone who truly knew him thought him a highly intelligent, witty yet sensitive soul with more ideas in a week than most people manage in a lifetime. He sold more bargains than Del-Boy, mainly from the environs of his over crowded car. Daniel never let me down and when I read the rubbish some people write, I wonder what THEIR obituaries will tell.

Mrs Angry said...
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