General Election 2019: Portsmouth hopefuls outline plans to boost armed forces if elected
POLITICIANS vying for a critical seat in Westminster have turned their gaze to the armed forces as they spell out how their parties will help Portsmouth’s military personnel.
Donna Jones, Gerald Vernon-Jackson and Stephen Morgan – who are all city councillors – are all battling to be elected as the next MP for Portsmouth South.
The seat is tipped as the most hotly-contested one in the election, locally, having changed hands from Lib Dem to Tory to Labour in the past four years.
Now city Tory leader Cllr Jones has fired an opening salvo in hope of currying favour from the constituency’s large armed forces community.
Her comments come after the Conservatives announced a new package of measures to support military personnel which included: guaranteed job interviews for veterans in any public sector role, tax cuts for businesses employing veterans by scrapping employer national insurance contributions for a year for every new employee who has left the armed forces, ‘wraparound’ childcare for service families including breakfast and after school clubs for children aged four to 11 and a new railcard for veterans.
Cllr Jones said: ‘These brave men and women keep us safe, they protect our sovereignty and they help people in crisis around the world. In some cases they literally put their lives on the line – the biggest service you can give to your country.
‘There should be nothing but the absolute maximum respect for our armed forces, that’s why I am fully committed to the proposals announced by the Conservatives.
‘Support with childcare to aid retention, support for travel with the new railcard and enhanced re-employment support, the very least we can do for heroes.’
City Labour leader Cllr Morgan, who was previously the area’s MP, fired back and accused the Tories of savaging the armed forces with relentless cuts.
His party has already pledged to scrap the public sector pay cap which they said has seen the starting salary of an army Private fall by 5.8 per cent in ‘real terms’ and provide ‘decent housing’ for forces families.
Labour has also vowed to create a new body to represent service men and women – similar to the Police Federation, end privatisation and provide better access to schools for military families.
Cllr Morgan said: ‘I have always been clear the government has no higher duty than the protection of our citizens and the maintenance of national security.
‘Yet since 2010, we have seen 5,000 Royal Navy jobs cut, 12 ships axed, 91 defence sites sold off and the lowest defence spending for 20 years. It is clear you cannot trust the Conservatives’ record when it comes to safeguarding our armed forces.
‘With a record of delivery standing up for our armed forces and our nation’s veterans already, I promise to do so much more.’
The Lib Dems are seeking to scrap settlement fees for armed forces veterans born outside the UK and end the ‘excessive’ indefinite leave to remain fees for former service personnel and their families applying to take up their right to settle in Britain.
City Lib Dem leader Cllr Vernon-Jackson added: ‘Under the Conservatives we have seen a huge reduction in the people serving in our armed forces. This is not because people won't join, it is just that many thousand are leaving early because they have been treated.’