The former leader of Brighton & Hove City Council has quit the Labour party and become the first known councillor to declare their support for the newly formed Independent Group of MPs.
Warren Morgan, who represents East Brighton, resigned from Labour after 27 years as a member, citing “Brexit, antisemitism and the toxic culture of aggression and bullying within the party and the broader Corbyn-supporting base”.
His reasons for quitting reflect those of the ‘gang of seven’ founding members of the Independent Group, MPs who simultaneously resigned from Labour on 18 February.
“I shared their aspirations for a new start in politics, and complete lack of faith in Jeremy Corbyn,” Cllr Morgan said.
Mr Warren told LGC he hopes to stay on until May to see out his term, and after that he is not ruling out standing for the Independent Group in the council elections, assuming that the group gets accredited as a political party. “But it would be very difficult for me to stand against my colleagues,” he added. “We shall have to wait and see on this.”
Cllr Morgan has been joined in his allegiance to the independent group in Brighton’s council chamber by Michael Nektarios Inkpin-Leissner, who told LGC he resigned from the Labour Party two years ago “for the same reasons that Warren did”.
“I am German, and as such, I don’t want to be a member of a party that’s institutionally anti-semitic,” he said.
However, Cllr Inkpin-Leissner and Cllr Morgan will also continue to stand by the current Labour group in their local area, because Mr Inkpin-Leissner says “Labour councillors in Brighton don’t represent the anti-semitic views of Jeremy Corbyn”.
In Brighton and Hove, Labour and the Tories are neck and neck with 21 councillors each, after Anne Meadows, a former Labour mayor, quit Labour to join the Conservatives last week. The Green Party holds the balance of power.
In a post on Facebook Cllr Morgan said he would vote ”with the Labour Administration in this week’s budget and in any challenge from the Conservative group for control of the council”.
Mr Warren told LGC that a lot of people in Brighton and Hove who supported Labour are now “very unhappy” with Corbyn’s position on Brexit, and may be tempted to vote for a future Independent Group party.
“We are in unknown times,” he said. “We have the kind of demographic here that pollsters are saying the Independent Group might find support for.”
As leader of Brighton & Hove Council for three years before stepping down last year, Cllr Morgan claims that he oversaw the delivery of more new council homes than at any time in three decades, and worked to ensure that “despite massive Conservative cuts, no council staff faced compulsory redundancy”.
In his resignation letter, he wrote: “I was one of the first to raise concerns about antisemitism following events at the 2017 Conference in Brighton.
“It was my duty as council leader, as a Labour councillor, to call out racism wherever and whenever it appeared, without fear or favour, in defence of the city’s Jewish community. For that, I was vilified by members locally and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn nationally.”
Mr Warren says his friends in the Jewish Labour Movement urged him not to resign his membership in response to the “unchecked and rampant antisemitism amongst Party members, in order to fight back and clear the Party of those with racist antisemitic views”.
“The resignation of Luciana Berger from the Party is a clear sign that members of the Jewish community and those who support them have no place in Labour,” he said.
Brighton & Hove was a staunch ‘remain’ area, as 68.6% of residents voted to remain in the EU in the referendum.
Mr Warren claims that Brexit will do “immense damage” to the economy of Brighton and Hove – “to tourism, our universities, our service sector and our creative digital industry”.
In his resignation letter to Labour general secretary Jennie Formby, Cllr Morgan wrote: “The racism, factionalism bullying and intolerance of any dissenting view [in Labour] is intolerable.
“It has long ceased to be the broad church I joined. Hope of a return has, for me, faded and gone.
“I feel I still have something to offer in public service, and to my city and its communities. My values and my aspirations for those people have not changed in that time and nor will they, but now like others I must find another means by which to realise those values, deliver better lives for the people who need the best of representation, and help give others that opportunity to serve.”