We’ve lost the ‘Watch, also known as BorisWatch, also known as Tom Barry.
That would be the guy who brought you the link between neo-conservatism and the war on bendy buses, who counted the number of the Dangleway and found that basically no-one ever used it, who measured the heat in the Borisbuses (as well as estimating accurately how far overweight they were), and repeatedly caught out Tory staffers in all kinds of weird twitter shenanigans. He endlessly harried Toby Young, worth doing in itself, in trying to hold his academy project to account. He annoyed the hell out of Andrew Gilligan by unmasking his sockpuppets. He helped to start a movement. He had a damn good go at Eric Pickles, too. He got Boris Johnson to sign a copy of Sonia Purnell’s scathingly critical biography of Boris Johnson. He helped Naadir Jeewa, Adam Bienkov, and I start the first dedicated coalition blog. He caught the Boris jetsetting at Evgeny Lebedev’s expense. He was one of the earliest to identify Thomas Heatherwick as a public menace. He located the site of Boris Island by tracking the mayor’s boat trip via an AIS receiver and mapped it:
And I’ve not even started on his whole earlier blogging career as Blairwatch, being right about Iraq. Famously, his last-ever tweet was yet another attack on the wretched lardbus:
— Boris Watch (@BorisWatch) October 28, 2015
I really, really hope someone is thinking about how to preserve his blog. Among other things, it’s a masterclass in the practice of blogging and indeed of journalism. There is a belief abroad, which needs fighting, that there is a distinction between “data journalism” and some other kind of journalism. This is silly. Without the tools of data journalism, the rest of it is going to be increasingly irrelevant. Without the skills of conventional journalism, data journalism is just making pretty infographics. Tom’s blog was a fine example of cross-cuing the different tools and methods onto the story.
He was an almost embarrassingly nice man. He was also a huge scrapper. There was no contradiction in this, although there was creative tension between the two. Orwell imagined Dickens as someone who was generously angry, and I can think of no better description. He relished getting up people like Toby Young or Dominic Cummings’ noses, but he was a million miles from someone like Paul Staines’ cranky bitterness. Actually, come to think of it, he regularly got a rise out of Staines too.
I will also always remember meeting up with him and the Bienkov in a pub, just after the demo outside the Lib Dems’ meeting to decide whether they’d take the money or not. Tom showed up with his son Alfie, an incredible little cockney who proceeded to pick a £20 note out of his dad’s pocket right in front of my eyes, while wearing an absolutely angelic grin. To be honest, I think Alfie’s gesture remains the best possible comment on the Cameron years.
And yes, I’ve thought several times this week that “Damn, I can’t wait to show Tom Barry that”, or “I wonder what the Watch will make of this?”, or “I know who can answer that: Tom Barry!”