Good News / Bad News

Friday, June 20th, 2003

Two bits of news on the political front today, one that pleases me greatly, one that does very much the opposite.

On the good side, there's been another council by-election in Burnley, the town where the British National Party is on the march and has succeeded in getting nine councillors elected. This made them the official opposition to the Labour administration and since this by-election was caused by a Labour resignation they must have hoped to win a tenth. They failed by 11 votes.

This is good enough news on its own, but the icing on the cake from my point of view is that it wasn't Labour which won, it was the Liberal Democrats. We now also have nine councillors, which means the BNP can no longer claim to be the main opposition party there.

I'm sure will have her own perspective on it, being a bit closer to the action, but I was beginning to fear that the BNP were becoming unstoppable there. They've certainly developed a few unpleasant ways of squashing Lib Dem challenges in the past. So this result is a mighty relief on more front than one.

The bad news – sad news, really – comes out of the London Borough of Brent, where I used to be news editor on the local paper and up to my eyeballs reporting on the turbulent local political scene. The MP for Brent East, Paul Daisley, has died of cancer. He was 45. Apparently a quiet announcement was made last December that it was only a matter of time before this happened.

Inevitably when you report on an area you get to know its political figures. At that time Daisley was the leader of the Labour group on Brent Council, and when I was there he was leading a guerrilla war again the Tories who held power in the borough by just the mayor's casting vote. It was an incredibly tense time, and an incredibly bizarre one too.

For example, there was a period of a fortnight where Daisley took control of the borough because a Tory councillor had not attended a council meeting following – it was said at the time – a row with his wife. This put the Tories in a minority and Daisley swooped. A fortnight later at the next meeting the Tories were back to full strength and he was back in opposition. He finally took control of the borough for Labour following the death of a Conservative councillor just before the ceremony to select a new mayor. The Tories were one short for the ceremony, a Labour mayor was elected, and when the Tories won the by-election it did them no good because by then the Mayor's casting vote was under Daisley's control. Very weird times.

Another example: the council's IT department passed a second-hand computer to Daisley's office for his use when he was still opposition leader. On closer examination it was found that not all the files belonging to the previous user had been cleaned off properly. The previous user was the Tory leader Bob Blackman. The files included a begging letter to the government asking for special treatment to avoid a politically-embarrassing rise in the borough's council tax and – to widespread shock and amazement – the transcript of a tape recording of one of Daisley's councillors, John Duffy. Someone had gone round Duffy's house, conned him into a conversation on some big secret issue of the time, and secretly tape-recorded him.

There were a lot of less-than-impressive characters in Brent politics at the time. The years when the borough had been a national joke had not long passed and a lot of the scars from the in-fighting were very fresh. Only a handful of councillors stood out from the common herd as being a little bit special. Daisley was one. He had charisma and good humour – and (from where we were sitting on the outside) a ruthless streak too. We had different politics of course (although as a reporter at the time I had to keep that secret) but that doesn't mean I can't also think he was on the side of the angels and wish fate hadn't pulled such a lousy trick on him at such a horribly young age…

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.