Former council chief blasted by veterans over ‘pathetic’ Portsmouth Remembrance row

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FURIOUS veterans have accused a former council leader of using Portsmouth’s Remembrance Sunday commemoration as a ‘political football’.

The outcry comes after Tory chief Councillor Donna Jones took a potshot at the city’s Lib Dem leadership on Twitter, accusing them of ‘failing to prepare’ for the ceremony.

Royal Marines Band at the Guildhall square, Portsmouth during a remembrance service. Picture: LPhot Sam Seeley

Royal Marines Band at the Guildhall square, Portsmouth during a remembrance service. Picture: LPhot Sam Seeley

Cllr Jones said she was dismayed by Portsmouth City Council’s approach to Remembrance Sunday – which this year marks 100 years since the war’s end – and slammed the authority for its ‘lack of leadership’.

However, the comments have outraged the military community, who said the political ‘wranglings’ were ‘distracting’ people from remembering the city’s courageous war heroes killed defending Britain.

Falklands legend Simon Weston, who was horrifically burned during the battle to liberate the British territory from Argentine invaders 36 years ago, said: ‘This is not a time for ego. It’s a time for solemn remembrance, for remembering the sacrifice and courage of those who fought to defend our freedom.

‘These were people who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for peace. That’s what needs to be remembered. Politics has no place in Remembrance.

‘If you have got councillors fighting over Remembrance that’s really silly because it’s going to take place whether they’re there or not.

‘This argument is just a distraction.’

Retired Lieutenant Commander Mike Critchley, of Gosport, also condemned the behaviour.

He said: ‘The Remembrance Day commemorations are way, way above any political wranglings going on in Portsmouth or anywhere else.

‘You see at the Cenotaph in London the three political leaders laying wreaths together in a show of unity.

‘What’s going on in Portsmouth is just pathetic. Councillors should know better. Remembrance isn’t a political football.’

Veteran soldier Stephen James, co-founder of Portsmouth-based armed forces cause All Call Signs, was also frustrated by the behaviour.

He said: ‘This is Remembrance Sunday. It’s not something that politicians should be trying to score points with.

‘A lot of people sacrificed their lives so that we can live the lives we have today – so politicians can sit comfortably and argue on Twitter or in parliament.

‘If there was one thing you would think politicians could unite on it would be Remembrance.’

Cllr Jones first made her remarks over concerns work to name all the city’s casualties from the First World War by Cosham-based historian Alan Laishley, of the Pompey Pals Charity, was being overlooked by the council.

However, Mr Laishley later confirmed there had been ‘some confusion’ and that his names were going to be read out by the Pompey Pals at the city’s memorial in Guildhall Square.

Speaking to The News about next week’s Remembrance ceremony, Cllr Jones said the former Tory administration had set aside £80,000 for the service.

She added: ‘I don't know what is happening, no-one seems to know. There's a lack of leadership and a failure to embrace the fact that Portsmouth was so important in the war.’

LCouncil leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson confirmed that commemorations on November 11 would be taking place as originally planned. 

The Lib Dem boss said: 'The Remembrance service in Portsmouth has always been very big. It's one of the biggest anywhere in the country.

'I don't know of anything that was planned that isn't happening, except the idea to have the long flags coming down at the front of the Guildhall. I think they were deemed too expensive.’

It was confirmed the £80,000 budgeted by Cllr Jones is being used in full as originally planned with £70,000 for the restoration of the cenotaph in Guildhall Square and £10,000 for commemoration events.