Local elections 2019: Portsmouth City Council – Lib Dems finish with more seats, but still no majority

THE control of Portsmouth City Council is still up for grabs as this morning’s result yielded no overall majority for any party.

Friday, 3rd May 2019, 4:29 am
Updated Friday, 3rd May 2019, 4:38 am
The election count in Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman

Despite weeks of tenacious campaigning neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Conservatives managed to gain enough seats to snatch the coveted top spot.

Tories won the most seats with seven, closely followed by the Lib Dems – currently the administration - who took six. Labour won two and no other parties or independents claimed any.

Although the Tories took more seats the election has left them with one less ward overall, widening the gap between them and the Lib Dems.

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The election count in Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman

As a result the new make-up of the council is 18 Lib Dems, 16 Tories, six Labour and two independents.

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For council and Lib Dem leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, it was a successful night. ‘It is a really great result,’ he said.

‘We are now the largest party in the council and we have managed to gain seats every year for the past three years.

‘This shows that people like what we are doing.’

But the council administration could still change if the Labour party sides with either the Tories or Lib Dems. This could be decided at the next full council meeting in a couple of weeks.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson won his seat in Milton with a majority of 575 

This was despite earlier reports that suggested it could be a close call.

The veteran politician quashed fears his seat for Milton ward could be lost to Labour newcomer Paula Savage at this morning's count.

Speaking before results were announced he said: 'I think the Lib Dems could gain seats, making it the third year in a row that this has happened.

'I am confident about my seat. 

'I think people have seen the Lib Dems back in power at Portsmouth and have liked what we are doing. The important thing is to get the basic services right. They like that we have kept weekly rubbish collections and introduced the black bins, they like the idea of food recycling and that we've found extra money for school classrooms.'

However, he acknowledged that voter turnout in the city was low. 'It will affect all parties,' he said.

'Some Lib Dem supporters haven't come out to vote but I'm sure it's the same for all parties.'

Speaking as votes were being counted Labour leader and Portsmouth South MP Councillor Stephen Morgan added: 'It's looking very close in wards like Fratton and St Thomas.

'Across the region it's looking like a mixed bag as well, will Lib Dems and Greens gaining seats.'

At the start of the evening, councillors from all parties expressed fears that voter apathy could impact the political future of Portsmouth.

Although tension was high at tonight's local election count at the Guildhall, early figures showed a 'significantly low' voter turnout - in line with the rest of the country.

Conservative leader, Councillor Donna Jones, explained that voters were feeling frustrated. 'There is one reason and one reason only why turnout is low and that is Britain leaving the EU. Many people, even people who voted to remain, now just want to see us leave with or without a deal,' she said.

Portsmouth South MP and councillor Stephen Morgan agreed. He said: 'There's so much division in the country at the moment. People are using apathy to show they are not happy.'

'I have managed to go to polling stations in Central Southsea and Fratton today and what we're seeing is very low voter turnout. Nationally we are expecting significant losses for the Tories and more Independent councillors voted in. 

'In Portsmouth Labour is hoping to build on the 12 per cent gains that we got last year and win even more seats.'

Cllr Jones, former council leader, also remained confident. She said: 'I think that turnout looks like it has been low across Portsmouth. However, I am optimistic that people in Portsmouth have been telling us that they are appreciative and remember the good things that we achieved when we were in power between 2014 and 2018 whilst I was leader of the council. 

'I'm hoping that if we win seats we can work towards a more cross-party council.'

In recent years the political balance of Portsmouth City Council has never been so delicate. Both major parties in the city, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, held an equal number of seats before tonight – 17.

Lib Dem councillor and city regeneration boss, Cllr Ben Dowling, hoped to see his party succeed. Speaking before results were announced he said: 'It's been a long day of campaigning but the Lib Dems continue to feel positive, we just have to wait and see what the outcome of the evening is. It is so close between us and the Conservatives but we hope that the people of Portsmouth have seen the really good work we have done in the last year and that we can continue to do that.

'In the last three years we have had so many elections and the same issue in our politics. But hopefully we will prevail in Portsmouth.'

Results were announced by 2.30am.

Voter turnout was 31.5 per cent, down from 32 per cent last year.