Dave, the history teacher

WARM words will rightfully be said about Dave Horan, the Kentish Town Labour councillor, this week. He sadly died from cancer on Saturday night.

For me, his death marks the passing of another of the old gang, a nod to a time when Camden Council wasn’t stuffed with just-graduated councillors, thrusting to be an MP before they have worked out how to tie their shoelaces.

That’s not to say that a more representative make-up is not beneficial. The recent increase in women, ethnic minorities and – yes – younger councillors at the Town Hall is undoubtedly welcome. But Camden needs some angry older councillors to temper the bumptious young bucks too. Dave was perfect at that, partly because he was so well versed in the history of Camden and other areas of north London. He knew how it all fitted together, how its residents thought and felt. He knew where mistakes could be avoided.

Not so long ago, I shared an evening in the Sir Robert Peel, that Gospel Oak gossiphouse of a pub, with him and Roy Shaw, another Labour councillor who has also since passed on. The pair of them provided a shopping list of gripes with the New Labour government. They were angry over how their colleagues in central government seemed to be turning the party’s core supporters against them locally. People wanted to vote for Dave and Roy but found it difficult to do so while Blair was in charge and with the Iraq War so raw.

Both could see what was coming – a historic Labour election defeat at the Town Hall – and could not fathom why the local party leadership did not distance itself from the most unpopular policies ordered from on high. Dave more than Roy thought the rebellious spirit of Frank Dobson and Glenda Jackson should be replicated in council high office.

Dave did lose his seat in 2006. The Lib Dems were surging and still insist their win there wasn’t all about Iraq protest votes. I remember Dave’s anger at the count: he felt the warning signs had been missed time and again, and was furious that a once safe seat like Kentish Town would be striped yellow. He won his seat back in May.

Labour members supplying the tributes this week will talk about his resolute support. He was angry with the wrong forks in the road taken under Blair but his devotion to the party was undying. You didn’t see him in the New Journal attacking his colleagues.

He believed the answer lay in reforming from within. His hatred for the Conservative opposition – not held personally against councillors in Camden but the Thatcher governments of the 1980s meant he was never going to walk away. The alternative to Labour rule, to him, was unthinkable. The responsibility was to win the argument inside his own group.

I will remember his history lessons, of Camden, the Labour Party and the Irish community across north London. For that matter, he knew more about the history of the Camden New Journal than me, sometimes recounting the industrial action from which the newspaper was born. He was softly spoken and sometimes seemed shy, but he had a fiery mind from which Camden only benefited from. Occasionally you saw his bursting anger in a council speech, a campaigning voice erupting from his pinched frame. He didn’t want to climb the political ladder, he just wanted a fair deal for his constituents. He was one of the good guys.

* Jeremy Corbyn MP, who Dave worked for, supplies his own personal tribute here.

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