Leaders in office but out of power pledge they will work for the best interests of Portsmouth

LEADERS of Portsmouth’s two biggest political parties have vowed they will work for the best of the city – as neither of them were successful enough to take over the council outright.

Friday, 3rd May 2019, 5:43 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd May 2019, 5:48 pm
Councillor Stephen Morgan, city Labour leader, with Tory chief Councillor Donna Jones and Lib Dem boss Councillor Gerald Jackson Picture: Habibur Rahman

Tory chief Donna Jones said she would like to side with Labour leader Stephen Morgan as she tabled her ambition to form a ‘rainbow coalition’ on Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet.

While Liberal Democrat boss Gerald Vernon-Jackson – the current council leader – said his door was open for discussions with the Labour ‘king-maker’ as the veteran councillor plotted his plan to rip up the rule book and dismantle the council’s cabinet all together.

That could see a move to a different system where councillors from different political groupings would have more of a say.

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Councillor Donna Jones, Conservative leader of Portsmouth City Council. Picture: Habibur Rahman

However, Councillor Morgan – Portsmouth South MP – dispelled claims he was going into an alliance with either group, saying he would refuse to ‘prop up’ his rivals.

The political tussle for power was sparked following the results of Thursday’s election, which left no clear-cut winner.

City Tories wiped their brows in relief after they bucked the trend of disastrous results nationally, managing to win seven seats – the most of the night.

But despite Councillor Jones hailing the result a ‘Tory victory’, they still did not have enough councillors to seize control of Portsmouth City Council from the Lib Dems, who remained in power – just – with 18 councillors to 16.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council. Picture: Habibur Rahman

It now means Cllr Morgan holds a sway over which party can have the run of the council, with his six councillors being enough to swing votes in the chamber for either of the two other parties.

And knowing this, it didn’t take long for his first rival to launch their charm offensive on Cllr Morgan, with Cllr Jones swooping in before the ballot count had even finished.

The Tory chief admitted she could not go into an official coalition with Labour, saying it would be against the Conservative’s national stance.

But she hinted a ‘rainbow coalition’ – which would see Tory, Lib Dem and Labour councillors sitting on the cabinet – could be on the cards.

Labour leader Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP. Picture: Habibur Rahman

She said that would help her party get its way during key votes and could lead to the reversal of the decision to scrap the city’s own power firm, Victory Energy, and the creation of new parking zones – issues Labour saw eye-to-eye with the Conservatives on.

‘Grown-up conversations need to take place in the next couple of weeks,’ said Cllr Jones.

‘If Labour really wants to see a reversal of the Victory Energy decision or on the parking zones they will work with the Conservatives as one of the biggest parties to make sure that Portsmouth is run in the right way.’

She added Labour and the Conservatives were ‘far more aligned in policies in Portsmouth’ and that it would ‘make sense for the three parties to work together and consider a rainbow coalition’.

But asked if Labour were king-makers of the council, she admitted: ‘Yes, they are.’

Lib Dem boss Gerald Vernon-Jackson insisted he was eager to see ‘closer cross-party working’ dispute admitting how Labour had stonewalled previous attempts over the past year.

He added his radical plan to reshape how council decisions were made, by scrapping the cabinet in favour for a cross-party voting system, would benefit Portsmouth.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘Personally I want to get rid of the cabinet system completely and go to a cross-party decision-making one. That’s what I think will be the best idea for Portsmouth.

‘Yes it has the potential to slow decisions down. But I think there could be significant benefits to Portsmouth by introducing this new system in.’

He added he would look to put this to a council vote later this year but stopped short of saying exactly when.

Cllr Morgan said: ‘On the council we do not prop up any particular party. Instead we vote on a case by case basis in order to deliver what is best for the people of Portsmouth.

‘What our city needs right now is open and honest politics, and strong and ambitious leadership, something the Tories and Lib Dems have shown us they can’t deliver for our great city. The people of Portsmouth deserve better.’