The lion who gave Brent its roar: a tribute to Cllr Dan Filson

Someone once said that life is a series of ten or so major moments. Some good, some bad. Some totally shocking.

On Friday, I experienced what I think I will always remember as one of the last kind of those moments. The kind of shock I haven’t felt since my grandad – who was my hero – died many years ago.

Cllr Dan Filson – one of my main political mentors and, more than that, one of my really good friends – had died.

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It is hard to put into words how much I and, particularly other younger councillors, respected Dan. We respected him for his knowledge, his experience, his forensic eye for detail.

But above all we respected him for his principles. Dan could be sharp with people he disagreed with. Abrasive, even. But that was because he believed in finding the truth. You see, Dan was a man entirely without ego. He was driven by public service in the old-fashioned sense of the term.

Because Dan was not a politician, nor did he ever profess to be one. He was, rather, a man in politics. And not just a man – a gentleman. In the truest sense of the word.

Dan’s election to the role of Chair of Scrutiny this year was the culmination of a lifetime he had spent searching for transparency, accountability and democracy. He was made for it.

At the first private meeting of the new Scrutiny Committee, Dan told us that Scrutiny was the lion that had failed to roar. “But we will give it its roar”, he declared, with a trademark twinkle in his eye.

And that, in the few short months he chaired the committee he was born to lead, was what he did. Only a few days before he died, Dan was hounding Cllr Kelcher and I. We were both on the verge of publishing our own Scrutiny reports.

He wanted our wording sharpened up, our recommendations to be bolder, our scrutiny to be as piercing and forensic as he would have made it. He was working right up until the last. Because Dan only ever wanted to be a councillor for others.

He once told me that, when he had first joined the Labour Party, other members had assumed that, because of his received pronunciation, he was a Tory in disguise. But in truth, Dan’s values were the truest Labour values you could hope to find.

We are trying to pick up the pieces now. Trying to think about how we will go on without him. Without our most decent and principled member. The best all of us can do is try as hard as we can to mirror his flawless public service, his relentless attention to detail and his determination to speak truth to power.

This, after all, is what we were all elected to do.

On Saturday morning, while I was still wandering around with my head down, I went to Wembley to try and sign up people to vote. It was what he would have wanted, I thought.

He would have wanted us to press on. To ensure that disadvantaged people didn’t drop off the electoral register because of Tory cunning. He wouldn’t have tolerated us sitting around moping about his passing.

As I turned out of Wembley Park station and looked towards Wembley Stadium, a blinding light caused me to close my eyes momentarily. The sun was imposing itself over Wembley Arch. Blessing the hallowed turf below in its radiance.

And, with a smile, I thought to myself: he’s not really gone.

Dan’s legacy will live on as long as there are decent folk with the courage to defend it. To defend democracy and public service and honesty in the Brent that we love.

For Dan wasn’t a councillor like any other in Brent. He was a selfless, fearless, lion-hearted man.

In the end, he was the lion who gave Brent its roar.

5 comments

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