Earlier in the year, I did a series of posts profiling forgotten liberal heroes (to which a couple of other people also kindly contributed), looking at some of those who achieved great things for liberalism in their time but have been unjustly forgotten – such as Margaret Wintringham, the very first female Liberal MP.
There is also another group of people who I think are often unjustly obscure – those local campaigners who are often at the heart of their local community and local party, delivering liberalism and helping others, but as their stage is a local one they are often unacknowledged in the wider party.
So welcome to a new series, profiling some of those local liberal heroes from around London. The first is Brent councillor, Daniel Brown.
For Daniel, liberalism was a family affair as his mother was already a party member when he joined (and she too was a Lead Member when the Liberal Democrats led Brent Council). Becoming a councillor seemed the natural progression for someone who wanted to do more than talk about liberalism.
It was the death at a tragic young age of the highly talented Mike Harskin which put Daniel on Brent Council, as he won the resulting by-election in Brent’s Alperton ward in 1992. The ward is bisected by the Grand Union Canal and includes the stretch of its towpath used for one of the most famous scenes in British soap opera history – the 1989 shooting of Dirty Den in Eastenders.
Daniel Brown has been a councillor consistently since, including a time as a lead member during the Liberal Democrat-led administration of the council.
A predominantly residential area, it has always been home to a large number of small issues, encouraging the sort of classical pavement politics style that Daniel has made his trademark. The technology may have changed – it is many years since he last deployed the Letraset and now his Blackberry is used in a fearsomely efficient way to handle casework emails – but the ethos has remained the same: fix the individual problems that most matter to people. “Politics is about people,” he says.
Typical is the issue Daniel instinctively first mentions when asked to recall his most important campaigns – helping to resolve the problems faced by a woman who had built up huge housing arrears and was facing eviction. The issue was specific just to her, but being able to keep your home makes a massive impact on someone’s life.
Fixing the details that can seem small to a distant bureaucrat yet have a major impact on people’s lives was the same theme in another issue he mentions – that of ensuring that train services between East Croydon and Milton Keynes stop regularly at Wembley Central.
As a result he says of the traditional party Focus newsletter – “It has to be about things you’ve actually done. You can’t be just a paper delivery machine”. Moreover, if you do things for your community, not only will you have things to say but also, “if people value what you’re doing, they’ll deliver your paper for you. Just ask”. No wonder that his ward consistently has a pretty complete delivery network.
He says he does not do political heroes. Instead the motivation comes from wanting to promote and assist in the empowerment of the individual and as a local councillor the opportunities to do that come in every day in his inbox as people raise local issues with him and he not only takes their grumbles seriously but tries to help them get power over their own lives as he helps out.