COMMENT: The day the young Clark Kent of Horsham council turned into Superman

Josh Murphy, pictured in 2011
Josh Murphy, pictured in 2011

Whatever your party politics, shed a tear of pride today for Horsham District Council’s youngest member - Tory Josh Murphy.

He may look like a young Clark Kent, but today he revealed he was Horsham’s own Superman.

No-one was more surprised than him when the 19-year-old was propelled to public office in 2011 in a seat the Conservatives didn’t expect to win.

Since then, he has struck an excellent balance between his private life and serving the community. He has conscientiously represented his constituents without ever seeking the limelight.

But today, in a brief e-mail to our political editor, he said ‘yes, he was happy to sign our Free Speech Charter.’

In that one simple act, he proved once again - were proof needed - that the electorate had been wise to trust him.

There is nothing more important in a democratic society than open decision-making. It is the cornerstone of everything we seek to do.

Lib Dems, UKIP, and Independents have long recognised it. It’s in their DNA.

But tiny Tory councils like Horsham’s have preferred a different approach. Rigid internal discipline, whipped votes, tight control of what members can write in the local newspaper, and real decision-making confined to utterly private internal meetings has become the sad and dispiriting mode of operation.

This control freakery manifested itself again when they decided to knife their chairman-elect Christian Mitchell - a man who by his own admission can be difficult and single-minded in his pursuit of the public interest - after he campaigned for his residents on the issue of North Horsham development.

The role of chairman is fairly meaningless - power is vested in the leader and deputy leader Ray Dawe and Helena Croft - so for the group to strip it away in a whipped vote at the eleventh hour seemed both small-minded and spiteful.

It was an act that was extraordinarily unbecoming of a party of the Conservatives’ historic and national stature.

Since then, the County Times has launched a Free Speech Charter - a simple and uncontentious statement that merely reaffirms the British democratic principle that elected representatives exist first and foremost to serve the people.

Other parties have rushed to sign it. Why wouldn’t they?

Until today, only Mr Mitchell from the Tory benches had offered his signature.

Then Mr Murphy stepped in.

With one single act, this young man has put to shame all the pompous, arrogant posturings of the party elite.

Well done, Mr Murphy.

You entered the council chamber as a boy. Today, you proved you are a man - and a super one at that.