Politics Needs A Sense Of Place

As Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council for three years until last May, I know how damaging the current Government's policies have been to councils and local services, and how desperate the need is for change. However that change cannot come at any price. After 27 years as a member I no longer believe Labour, as it exists now, is fit to deliver that. We need, urgently, to change politics at a national and a local level.

With both parties beset by racism, the Conservatives by Islamophobia and Labour by antisemitism, our politics is at its lowest ebb since the expenses scandal. The farce over Corbyn’s insistence his office has no involvement in disciplinary cases, followed by evidence it does, and over the in/out statements on the Head of Complaints and his non-replacement from LOTOs office team shows how inept and incompetent the leadership is. Few now believe the Party's processes are fair and independent, few now trust statements from the General Secretary or Leader.

Theresa May’s reckless brinkmanship with the Commons over her Brexit deal is the very opposite of true leadership. With Corbyn's barely concealed Euroscepticism and evident resistance to promoting and enforcing the policy set by members on a new referendum, Brexit has exposed the deep fractures in the two main parties.

The Tories are increasingly under the influence of Brexiteers, the ERG and Faragistes. Labour are wholly under the control of a far-left coalition of Corbynites and Communists, militant Momentumites and Stalinist tribute acts previously confined to attending tiny meetings in draughty halls and selling obscure newspapers from behind high street paste tables. Are either truly in touch with public opinion, or equipped to take a rational and evidence-based approach to the critical challenges facing the country?

If national populism has overtaken our two main parties, then someone has to give voice to progressive values, internationalism and representative democracy. Someone has to defend and promote a well-regulated social market economy where all are given the opportunity to succeed. The choice cannot be between an unrestrained free market and an outdated command-and-control model that has never come to terms with the modern world.

If antisemitism and Brexit are the headlines under which many long-serving Labour members and councillors have chosen to leave, the detailed backstory lies in the culture of factional bullying and intimidation that has pervaded Labour branches and constituency parties since 2015. Nowhere has this been felt more than in Labour council groups faced with a membership at best indifferent and at worst publicly hostile to their work in office.

Local Government needs innovation, creative partnerships and fresh thinking if it is to survive. Councillors and elected mayors need to be trusted, by both central government and their political parties, to take the difficult decisions needed. A national solution is needed for the demographic time-bomb that will destroy local government finances as surely as Brexit will cripple the economy nationally.

Partnership working with community interest companies, cooperatives and the not-for-profit sector should be promoted, not viewed with suspicion or condemned as “privatisation.” As Leader I was proud to initiate a joint venture with a housing association to provide a thousand new homes affordable to people on the National Living Wage, as well as hundreds of new council homes.

We must not see a return to the dogmatic policies and ideological disasters of Militant town halls 30 years ago, where innovation is constricted by ideology, and international issues compete with local ones for time and funding.

Politics needs a sense of place.

It is for Westminster and the European Parliament to take on international and global issues and challenges. Politics at a local level must focus on the needs of communities, on the values of public service, on sustainable and vibrant economies where everyone benefits. Local government must be diverse and representative, transparent and trusted, collaborative and bold.

Many of us who still have more to offer our communities and local government, but who can no longer do that via the Labour Party, are now joining the new movement led by the Independent Group of MPs. Rather than fight battles within and between parties, our energies will now be focused on building a positive way forward for our communities and our country. At a national level and at a local level, we want to change politics for good.

Warren Morgan is the Independent Councillor for East Brighton and former Labour Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council