Back in early 2015, when I was standing as a Labour candidate in Preston Park ward in Brighton, I was approached by a very prominent member of what has since become the Momentum left in Brighton and Hove, who asked whether I would be willing to take part in ousting Warren Morgan as Labour Group leader. Obviously, the knives were out even before the 2015 election – at a time when one might have hoped that the people concerned would be devoting their time and effort to electing a Labour administration in Brighton and Hove and a Labour MP in Brighton Pavilion.
I’m recounting this now as, with Warren Morgan having announced his decision to stand down as Leader of the Labour Group in May this year, and from the Council next year, it might be useful, as Dr Johnson put it, to clear our minds of cant. So let’s start with the honest truth – that plots to replace Warren as Labour group leader date to long before the Labour administration took office and are nothing to do with that administration’s record. Let’s stop pretending that the sustained abuse that has been heaped on Warren during his time in office has anything to do with his decisions in office.
And, when one looks at that record, it’s impressive. In the blog post announcing his decision to stand down, Warren described many of those achievements – of which the renewed provision of council housing in a city with some of the least affordable housing in Europe has to be the most important. And these achievements have taken place against the background of funding cuts of unprecedented savagery; at a time when some Councils in England are teetering on the brink of insolvency, Warren’s administration has been able to deliver on housing and on jobs – without making a single compulsory redundancy. There have been no taxis scuttling around the city handing out redundancy notices to Council staff on this administration’s watch.
Aneurin Bevan wrote, famously, that the language of priorities is the religion of Socialism. One of the key lessons I learned from working alongside Warren was that you never promise what you cannot deliver; and I’d add that, against the background of Westminster-imposed austerity, you deliver what you can rather than what you would like. And you do it with the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in mind; it’s notable that much of the criticism of Warren has come from a privileged left domiciled in the leafy suburbs of Withdean and Patcham, from people who talk a good ideological talk but know nothing of daily life in Whitehawk, Moulsecoomb and on the Bates Estate. And you remember that your mandate comes not from the party caucus, not from the enthusiasm with which you chant “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” at rallies, but from the people who elected you. That’s the legal position – but, above all, for a Socialist it’s the moral position.
And it’s worth remembering the history. The Labour administration in Brighton and Hove was elected on a clear mandate – one that rejected the privileged gesture politics of the Green Party, and was pledged to do what it could in what would – even had we got a Labour government in 2015 – have been tough financial times.
So, if I found myself face to face again with the person who invited me to take part in a leadership coup, my answer would be simply this: No, because I am a Socialist, and, like Warren Morgan, I want a Council that rejects gesture politics and will work tirelessly to deliver a better life for the people who need Labour. And, for that reason, despite all your banner-waving and sloganising, he’s a far better Socialist than you will ever be.