Conservatives say they would work with Labour or Liberal Democrats to control Portsmouth City Council

AFTER an election that has left control of the city council uncertain, the two largest parties assert they have a clear mandate – while Labour waits as a potential kingmaker.

By Richard Lemmer
Sunday, 9th May 2021, 6:15 pm

For the seventh year running the local authority is in no overall control, with just one seat between the two largest parties, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

After Thursday’s election, the make-up of the council stands at 16 Tories, 15 Lib Dems, seven Labour two independents, and two members of the Portsmouth Progressive People group.

Now there are only two options facing the city, according to Liberal Democrat group leader Gerald Vernon Jackson – either Lib Dem or Conservative control.

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Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson Picture: Stuart Martin (220421-7042)

For Cllr Vernon-Jackson, this ‘interesting’ election was a clear signal that his party should remain running the local authority.

He said: ‘The election was clear that the Lib Dems won more seats than any other party, so it seems entirely logical that the Lib Dems continue to run the council.

‘I think that's what the people of the city have decided in the election.’

But the party was rocked by the loss of two senior councillors, with former cabinet members Matthew Winnington and Steve Pitt, who was also Lib Dem deputy leader, both being ousted.

New Conservative leader Cllr Matt Atkins Picture: Fiona Callingham

It was thought that Cllr Vernon-Jackson would be standing down as group leader and Mr Pitt would assume the position – a now untenable plan.

Regarding his future as leader of the political group, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘I am talking with my colleagues about the right thing to do for the city.’

A meeting of the Liberal Democrat councillors was planned for Sunday evening.

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For the newly appointed Conservative group leader, Councillor Matthew Atkins, the loss of two high profile Lib Dem councillors shows that ‘the people of Portsmouth want a new direction’.

But the councillor indicated that all options – including a rainbow coalition or working with the Labour Party – were on the cards.

Cllr Atkins said: ‘I think we have had a really great election. We're the largest party – that gives us a mandate.

‘We are looking to take control of the city council.

‘With us being the largest party, It should be us in leadership with the confidence-and-supply from another party.’

Questions over the Lib Dem’s future leadership meant no discussions had begun between the two parties, but the Conservative leader said he had spoken ‘briefly’ with Labour group leader and councillor George Fielding after the election.

Cllr Atkins added: ‘The Conservative party is always open to working with everyone. In the UK, we share common values and that is the same on the city council. We all voted for action on the climate emergency. We are all committed to maintaining the current budget against cutting services.’

But the Labour group had previously said they would not support a Tory administration, according to group leader and councillor George Fielding.

All options were on the table – to a certain extent, Cllr Fielding said.

The councillor said: ‘We’ve not had our group meeting to discuss options and strategies yet.

‘That comes this week on Thursday.’

The future leadership of the Lib Dem group will have ‘interesting ramifications’ and could be a factor in Labour’s decisions, according to Cllr Fielding.

He said: ‘I think our hand is strengthened by the results.’

The election saw 14 of the council’s 42 seats contested, with the Liberal Democrats winning six, Conservatives taking five, while Labour won two and one independent took a seat.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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