He was elected on a Labour Party ticket to the coloureds-only House of Representatives in the Tricameral Parliament in 1984. He defected to the National Party by 1994, and was appointed the Western Cape leader of the renamed NNP by 1998, when he became premier of the province. However, after the NNP joined with the Democratic Party to form the Democratic Alliance and later pulled out in 2001, Morkel stayed with the DA. He was then elected as mayor of Cape Town following the end of his term as premier, but only stayed in office for less than a year due to his links to fraudster Jurgen Harksen. He currently serves as a member of the City Council for Steenberg.
Morkel has three sons: Garth, Kent and Craig. They are also politicians.