Brent and local government are in mourning. We have lost an absolute Titan: Cllr Dan Filson.
I remember meeting Dan for the first time. It was a canvassing session before we were Councillors. Dan was late. He marched up, swinging his umbrella and without any introductions launched into a scathing critique of the directions we had been sent. He then broadened his attack to the manifold shortcomings of Google Maps. I learnt his name about a year later.
That was classic Dan. No self-awareness. No regard for how he is perceived.
I too had got lost on my way to that canvassing session but thought it would be “impolite” to mention that the directions were wrong.
Dan was usually right.
He arrived in Brent with a fine track record as a civil servant and a Councillor in Hammersmith. As a Brent Councillor he made an enormous impact, firstly for his forensic probing as a member of the Planning Committee. And then finding his natural home as Chair of Scrutiny.
He was born to fulfil that role: fiercely intelligent, hugely experienced and a natural questioner. It is a tragedy that his chairmanship has been cut short just as he was staking out a strong sense of direction for that committee.
But the true tragedy is that we have been robbed of a wonderful man.
After Dan became Chair of Scrutiny, he and I started having monthly meetings. I used to look forward to them so much.
They’d usually involve Dan giving an unsolicited symposium on whatever he happened to be reading. Unsolicited but utterly compelling. I’d end up disagreeing with something he said and we’d spend the rest of the meeting arguing. Council business was dealt with in about five minutes at the very end.
We shared a love of history and discussed everything from the Baron’s War to the Soviet invasion of Hungary. We shared a sort of camaraderie as he supported a truly awful rugby team and I support a truly awful football team. But we always disagreed.
And that disagreement was special.
Politics is full of fly-by-night yes-men who will say anything to advance their careers. That’s all very flattering, but it’s only when someone disagrees with you that you truly know where you stand.
It’s only when someone disagrees with you that learn where their core principles lie. Indeed it’s only when they disagree with you that you can be sure they have principles at all.
No-one, but no-one, could question Dan’s principles.
It was because Dan and I often disagreed that I came to understand him better.
He could appear boastful. But he wasn’t. He was just passionate about passing on his immense accumulated experience.
He could appear curmudgeonly. But he wasn’t. These were the outer layers of a very sensitive, caring man.
Dan had the work ethic of Churchill and the hinterland of Denis Healey. He seemed to have more hours in the day than the rest of us: attending meeting after meeting, churning out volumes of emails, reading copiously, travelling the country to watch sport – but always having the time for a glass of red and a friendly word of advice.
Without dedicated, principled public servants like Dan, local government would simply fall apart. But it is as a great man, not as a Councillor, that we should remember him.
We all knew Dan’s health was poor. But his passing is still a deep shock. I wish I had been able to learn more about his life and background. The hints he gave were enthralling. I suspect he was an even greater man than we realise.
How many people are genuinely irreplaceable? Dan will be.