Elections 2021: Shake-up for Portsmouth council as two group leaders Donna Jones and Gerald Vernon-Jackson step down

THE POLITICAL landscape in Portsmouth has always been a volatile one.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 6:21 pm

Even before it became a unitary authority in 1996, the leadership of Portsmouth City Council had ranged from Conservative, Labour and no overall control.

And in more recent years the council has been run by Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat administrations.

A Lib Dem administration took charge in 2018 after the local elections in May gave no party a majority. This was decided by narrow leadership vote - won by Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson who succeeded former Tory leader Cllr Donna Jones.

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From left, Labour's Stephen Morgan, Tory Donna Jones and Lib Dem Gerald Vernon-Jackson pictured in 2019 after they all contested the general election in Portsmouth South - while leading their respective parties on Portsmouth's council Picture: Habibur Rahman

And things are set to change again with this latest election.

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Meet your Portsmouth City Council candidates

Regardless of the outcome, two major players - the heads of the largest political groups on the council - will be standing down.

Long-serving Cllr Vernon-Jackson will be resigning his post as Lib Dem leader tomorrow - although staying on as a councillor in Milton ward.

He served as the Lib Dem leader in Portsmouth since 2004 and was council leader from 2004 to 2014 and then again from 2018 to 2021.

Conservative leader, and former council leader, Cllr Donna Jones is not only stepping down from her leadership role this year but is also not re-standing in Hilsea ward.

Instead she is in the running to become Hampshire police and crime commissioner - for which results are expected on Monday (May 10).

Speaking to The News, Cllr Jones said: 'To be elected for so many years, to have people put their faith in me is overwhelming. And getting to lead the council was definitely a life changing experience. I am leaving the council with a bit of a heavy heart.'

Cllr Jones said she was 'most proud' of setting up year-round homeless shelters and finding new ways of income generation during her stint as council leader.

She added: 'With Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson standing down and the Tory party a few seats away from an overall majority it lands on the Conservatives now to form a majority administration.'

Cllr Jones was first elected to the council in 2008, became leader of Conservatives in 2013 and then the first female leader of the council from 2014 to 2018

It is expected the new Tory group leader will be known Saturday night, after the election count.

Both Cllr Jones and Cllr Vernon-Jackson ran for MP in the south of the city in 2019 but lost out to Stephen Morgan from the Labour party.

Mr Morgan, stepped down as leader of the city's Labour group in February this year. He is not re-standing as a councillor in Charles Dickens ward this election.

'It's been an honour to serve residents of Charles Dickens as a ward councillor during my time on the city council,' he said.

'I look forward to continuing to work on their behalf as their Member of Parliament working alongside the next Labour group on the council.'

Portsmouth City Council is made up of 42 seats, a third of which are currently being contested.

To have majority over the council a party needs at least 22 of these seats - a feat that hasn't been achieved since 2009.

Prior to the election count tomorrow there are 17 Lib Dems, 15 Tories, six Labour, two independents and two Progressive Portsmouth People councillors on the council.

Other councillors stepping down this year are Neill Young in Copnor, Steve Wemyss in Drayton and Farlington, Will Purvis in Milton, John Ferrett in Paulsgrove and Tom Wood in St Thomas.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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