Labour councillor criticises Conservatives for choosing an 18-year-old candidate

Posted On 13 Sep 2012 at 2:01 pm

A senior Labour councillor has criticised the Conservatives for choosing an 18-year-old to stand in the East Brighton by-election next month.

Councillor Warren Morgan wrote an open letter to Simon Kirby, the Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown, about the selection of former Cardinal Newman pupil Joe Miller.

Councillor Morgan, deputy leader of the Labour group on Brighton and Hove City Council, questioned “the judgment in allowing someone so young and with such little life experience to run and potentially deal with the workload East Brighton councillors face”.

He said: “It is an immensely good thing that young people take an interest in politics and feel able to get involved and stand for election. It’s something I actively encourage.

Councillor Warren Morgan

“Labour has a number of councillors who are in their late teens or early twenties, often in university towns where they have studied.

“However, you have chosen an 18-year-old who left sixth form only this summer to contest an election to represent one of the most deprived and difficult wards in the South East.

“As you will know from your casework, although crime has reduced and the vast majority of the 11,000 East Brighton residents lead stable lives with steady jobs, there are unfortunately some people in East Brighton who are dealing with the consequences of domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse, and homelessness.

“They often lead what are termed ‘chaotic lives’ and have complex needs.

“Despite working for the police for four years prior to becoming a councillor, I have encountered many disturbing cases in my decade as a local representative.

“I’ve met a young girl whose mother was brutally murdered by her father.

“I’ve been to John Street police station in the middle of the night to address the potential community consequences of a fatal car accident in the ward.

“I’ve been briefed this week about a violent and unstable resident who has been threatening to his neighbours, council staff and police.

“Next May the changes to welfare support initiated by your government will have a severe financial impact on many vulnerable people in my ward. Both of our casework loads are likely to rise as a result.

“Some people will face desperate financial hardship. Their cases can be distressing. They need to have councillors whose judgment and support they can rely upon and trust.

“I am sure the candidate you have chosen has many positive qualities, though his decision to use a photo of himself in fancy dress to launch his campaign does not bode well.

Joe Miller

“However, I would question your judgment in allowing someone so young and with such little life experience to run and potentially deal with the workload East Brighton councillors face.

“Of course we will be campaigning hard to elect our own very well qualified candidate to the post but I would urge you, before nominations close, to reconsider your choice.

“The electors and communities of East Brighton will surely question how seriously the Conservative Party takes them if this is the person they believe is best qualified to work on their behalf.

“I’d stress these are my personal views and not those of the Labour Party.”

Mr Kirby said that Councillor Morgan’s remarks were ageist.

He said: “We should be encouraging young people to become involved in politics and I am absolutely delighted to have such a competent candidate in Joe Miller.

“Young people in East Brighton and across the country are paying the price for Labour’s disastrous handling of the economy and so it is unsurprising many of them are politically active.

“Ageism is still seen as acceptable by some people and that is deeply regrettable.

“I am certain Joe would make an excellent councillor, he would be a breath of fresh air on the council and has strong local connections to the area.

“When I was first elected to represent the people of Brighton in 1992 I remember I was the youngest councillor by about 30 years but it did not stop me representing constituents who contacted me with issues, often very serious.

“People are asking what message this sends to young Labour activists, if senior councillors have the kind of attitude that says, ‘you can pay your subscriptions but of course we don’t think you are capable of representing us’.

“I suspect Councillor Morgan was not so outspoken against young people when Emily Sophia Wedgwood Benn stood for the Labour Party at such a young age (at the last general election).”

At the local elections in Brighton and Hove last year the Labour Party fielded 18-year-old Clare Calder, who has since started a degree course at university.

The by-election in East Brighton, a safe Labour seat, was triggered by the resignation of Councillor Craig Turton because of ill health.


  1. Valerie Paynter Reply

    Politics…..all going pearshaped!

    A boy just out of 6th Form for the Tories, a lady “passionate about LGBT issues”(for which, with trepidation, I read ‘militant’, and ‘priority concern’ in the light of what has happened to Christina Summers)…..

    Can the public be confident either of these two would be capable of even-handedly representing or giving equal time to the wider Whitehawk population and its non-teenage, non-militant LGBT (or housing) needs and concerns?

    We are moving into an era of specialist representation whether we like it or not, it seems to me. Time for a change to the newly revived Parish Council system.

  2. Aaa Reply

    In making these comments Warren Morgan shows himself as unfit for public office

  3. Alison Smith Reply

    Typical Labour. Do as we say, not as we do. Cllr Morgan is running scared. Good luck Joe Miller, East Brighton would benefit from a young representative.

  4. Grant Clove-Lemon Reply

    While it is positive news that young people are interested in politics there needs to be an injection of realism about the complexity of the role. The case work of local politicians is demanding, but the complexity of local public services is even more challenging. One needs to understand the Local Government Act almost in its entirety, the complexities surrounding things like Uiversal Credit (under the wider welfare reform), changes to housing and council tax benefits, and the numerous statutes governing local public services. Without this level of knowledge it is difficult to hold a credible conversation with experienced politicians and expert public servants. Even partners across the city expect someone to know even the most basic of their sector’s policies and challenges. On top of all of these one needs to have the ability and credibility to cultivate the relationships across the city – this means having the knowledge and gravitas to hold a conversation with some of the sharpest minds in both public and private sector. But of critical importance is the ability to build the relationships to get things done. Good luck to young Mr Miller. It is welcome news that he in willing to step into the breach, but he needs to go into this with the confidence that he can hold his own for if he doesn’t then he may not last too long and that may not be a good thing for local democracy (and young Mr Miller).

  5. Valerie Paynter, Reply

    Wise words Grant Clove-Lemon. But idealistic. I’d be surprised if very many councillors knew even half of what you put forward as required.

    Hard to imagine Dawn Barnett getting stuck into The Local Government Act, or many cllrs that I can think of bothering to “cultivate relationships across the city” (unless it involved getting free tickets, party invites or something useful to personal career or lobbying or vote-gaining prospects). One or two highly diligent exceptions of course.

    The most serious point you make concerns the ability of a cllr to ask an “expert public servant” a question and do more than just take whatever answer is given at face value to be fwd to some hapless resident without any concern or ability to work out whether the officer has lied or not, given enough detail or not, is competent or not, on a scale of 1-10.

  6. Grant Clove-Lemon Reply

    @Valerie Paynter: forgive me for sounding presumptuous but I detect a degree of distrust of public servants? If so, then that is a tad unfair. Public servants interpret the brief they’ve been handed by the democratically elected representatives and merely provide a set of recommendations for the politicians to decide. If you have experienced a public servant behaving unprofessionally it would only be fair to provide the evidence. It isn’t fair to dismiss the work of these dedicated professionals on unsubstantiated remarks. The substance of the matter is the policy brief and herein lies the challenge of getting it right. There is also the issue of national policy, statute and guidance that informs how local public services can implement a local policy initiative. It is a hugely complex area and one that deserves a properly balanced and mature discussion.

    As for politicians cultivating relationships, I am not entirely familiar with your local context. However, local politicians work very hard for their constituents and rarely thanked for their efforts. I think it is ok for them to enjoy a few small benefits such as a drinks reception or tickets to events.

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