For several glorious years at the turn of the last century the Labour Party ran Sedgemoor District and Somerset County Councils -admittedly within an arrangement with the Lib Dems. And one of the key players in both of those authorities was Dave Busby. Sadly, Dave died in December 2021, but he leaves behind him a legacy of what Labour can do with a hand on power plus a record of public service, democratic socialism and community activism. Dave was a Labour Somerset County Councillor from 2001-2008 (Bridgwater East & Bawdrip) during which he was ‘Vice Chair’. From 1995-99 he represented Sydenham on Sedgemoor District Council and was the Chair of Planning during the Lib-Lab pact. From 1999-2003 he represented the new District ward of Bower and again from 2007-2010. Dave was a Charter Trustee from 1995 to 2003. These were the days before Bridgwater Town Council was revived and meant that the councillors elected for Sedgemoor for Bridgwater wards took on this ‘parish’ role. One such role was Mayor of the town and he was straight in the history books as the ‘Millennium Mayor’ for the year 2000 . He was instrumental in making the case for the new Town Council and was one of its first town councillors representing Bower ward in 2003 until 2010.
County Labour Leader
When Dave was elected to Somerset County Council he became leader of the County Labour Group. Along with Bridgwater South Labour Councillor Pat Parker he was on the Executive as part of the control arrangement agreed with the Lib Dems. Pat, who specialised in ‘early years’ , remembers “The Lib Dems needed Labour to vote with them to get their policies through. We agreed to do certain things but not where we didn’t agree. But at the same time we wouldn’t score political points. In fact because there was a Labour Government Nationally it was just the Libs carrying out Labour policies locally – things like ‘Sure Start’ or increased funding for Education.” This was Labour managing to make a real difference both in Government and locally .
Pat recalls “On County, Dave was a good and regular speaker. At every meeting, on every issue he was up on his feet and always spoke well. For the second term it was Lib Dem Alan Gloak who was county Chairman. And so popular was Dave that even came out and delivered election leaflets for him . Dave was Well known in Bawdrip – and he worked hard. Duncan McGinty stood against him for the Tories at one point and allegedly told people if they voted for David he ‘would be a good councillor’. And on County it’s true that he was well respected by all parties. In many ways he was a Member of the ‘common sense party’. “
Pat also remembers what became known as ‘Busbyisms’, “ if something was spelt wrong he’d pull them up on it. He was certainly ‘pedantic’ and he didn’t suffer fools gladly. Once he got an entire meeting cancelled because of an error in the agenda. But at the same time he got a lot of influence for Labour. Building Schools for the Future was a major Labour policy and one which the Tories eventually got rid of.”
Dave was from London and in fact was on his local Council at the age of 21 . Starting in Uxbridge, he actually notched up 50 years as a councillor, in London, in Edenbridge, Kent and later in Bridgwater. He was also a Magistrate .
Dave Busby was born on 14 July 1938 . Bastille day. In a Hospital next to Bow station.
His mother Laura was an activist in YCL and the influential pre war Communist Party . “He went round canvassing and polling from the age of 10!” remembers his sons.
In his early years Dave was a very active socialist. His eldest son Buzz remembers growing up in pushchairs at various Aldermaston marches. “Dad was always out at meetings. He loved meetings. He was on Hillingdon & Hayes council and was greatly influenced by the socialist Arthur Skeffington, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington. He was born in East London and then lived in Ealing, although he was evacuated to Huddersfield during the Blitz . He married Betty in 1968 and they got a council flat in Heathcoat way, West Drayton. One of his first campaigns was getting these massive Prefab concrete slabs removed. He became a super activist . He got on the council, he became a magistrate. He was also a councillor in Edenbridge in Kent. In fact everywhere he went!”
A Socialist Youth
As a youth David did a lot of camping. He was a member of that Young Socialist institution the Woodcraft Folk. But he was equally happy with guitars around the fire and the music of Pete Seeger and the Clancy Brothers as he was with Classical music. Buzz also recalls “He also collected stamps, and coins, and books. He had some 3000 books.”
In London Dave worked at Heathrow for British Airways Cargo and one of his passions was the Middlesex Show, of which he was the Chairman. Kevin remembers “Dave and Betty would volunteer for anything. Then they were dragged into organising the annual county show – the Middlesex Show. This was extremely big. Took 6 weeks of hard work. AND the sons were volunteered too! This was an annual Busby family diary piece for some 10-15 years.”
Living Life to the Full
So what made Dave Busby tick? The most common answer from people who knew him was ‘a glass of red wine’. But Dave was also a big fan of Classical music, Cricket and Rugby. On top of this he was an atheist -and didn’t want a funeral to commemorate him . Although he was also a pragmatist and when second wife Betty died, because she was a believer, he organised a religious service with all the trimmings.
Another passion of Dave’s was France. Buzz remembers “He had a love affair with France. He loved the idea, the style, the joie de vivre, the wine, the cheese. He used to say ‘it takes quite a lot of good living to get this stomach’. 3 times with Betty and once with Asha they tried to move to France, eventually buying a house in the Dordogne”
On the Move
So what brought him to Somerset? Eldest son Buzz recalls “His good friend Richard Hanson moved to Somerset on doctor’s advice for the health of his wife. Richard was the Chief Planning Officer at Hillingdon Council. They were friends for 47 years, both magistrates and both started on the Bench together”. Pat adds “He was also a member of the Horticultural society and when he came to Bridgwater he was a key organiser of the Sydenham flower show”
David Busby married three times -Valerie, Betty and Asha. When he married Asha in 2008 and in his retirement, he chose to spend time travelling. Together they visited Canada, Australia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, China, Azerbaijan, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and finally India where they settled
Dave’s illness hit him hard. Pat remembers that he talked to him in India and noticed that he’d lost a lot of his conversation. “He had Alzheimers and he lost it a bit. With cricket he could quote innings for years gone by, but then suddenly he couldn’t give a hoot.”
Dave was living in Bangalore with Asha and when she died of heart problems he decided to return home. Three weeks later he was back in England. That was 11th November 2021 and soon he became ill himself with Covid. He died on Friday 17th December in Somerset.
Dave’s politics were reflected in his socialist upbringing “It was right to care and it was right to do something about it”.