THE rooms of local authorities need to be opened up, so a word must go to Daniel Hope, the relentless blogger in Barnet who played his own, unique role in trying to bring them out of the darkness. His death, aged only 44, was announced on Friday – an upsetting shock to friend and foe alike in our neighbouring borough.
Some of his fellow bloggers in Barnet, a patch where a few of the first local politics blogs emerged several years ago, may be able to explain what motivated a man to devote so much of his time to turning up to endless council meetings with a video camera and then quickly uploading the footage afterwards to his Barnet Bugle website. The site is listed at companies house, but there is a limit to how much financial recompense he could have got from it.
Of course, he was fond of a spot of mischief, and even in the tributes paid this week there is a flavour of his niggly capability to get under the skins of politicians. But, among the prods and provocation, maybe the fact he was willing to share his footage for free – he did so once or twice for the CNJ when our paths overlapped – is a small measure of another story.
Maybe he just wanted as many people to see what goes on at the Town Hall, if only for a degree of public accountability; not just the silly scraps and Punch and Judy shows – and certainly council meetings in Barnet have seen a fair few of those – but also the discussions which lead to decisions which affect residents’ lives from one day to another.
Parochial political blogs may not get a million hits a day – there’s not much clickbait to be harvested from council meetings – but as local papers, either squeezed by a lack of finance, or in the worst cases a lack of will, have retreated, there has been a place for niche websites like the Bugle to develop. There are niche audiences for niche websites who find value in this content, and after all how many local newspapers are going to video every single meeting? The nationals can hardly get people to be interested in what goes on in the House of Commons unless an MP starts shouting or comes up with a rude zinger which can fit in a manageable, tweetable video.
In one-off cases, journalists like Daniel Hope gave it a go, locally, and, although I hardly knew him, he probably deserved more than being dismissed by some of those on the other end of his lens as an obsessed hobbyist cutting council meeting videos in his bedroom through the night. Town Hall chambers are surely more vibrant places for the outlaws on the wings, even the heckled could see that before Camden Council’s chief catcaller Ellen Luby left us. The Bugle, with the tape always rolling, was a different sort of character in Barnet, but it’ll probably feel just as strange for councillors sitting down for their next full council meeting without him. And his camera.
It’s important that people understand the context in which blogs like the Bugle are published – they are not newspapers – and to understand who the authors are, but Daniel’s past as a former Conservative councillor, often a cast as one wronged in an ancient deselection decision, was a matter of record and well known. Besides, the Tory side could not always expect an easy ride on his pages. As Mrs Angry, the Broken Barnet blogger, said this week, he held up a mirror to the local politicians there.
So whether they liked it or not, he gave them a glimpse of what they really looked like from outside, how silly they could sometimes seem while wasting away their hours on point-scoring and posturing. And we’ve all known a few councillors who could have benefitted with a service like that.