Tories complain after Lib Dem election candidates defy advice to miss war commemoration event

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THREE Lib Dem councillors could be punished for attending an event co-organised by Portsmouth City Council during election season.

Emails had been sent by the council’s legal expert Michael Lawther to every councillor prior to this week’s Torch of Liberation ceremony advising them not to go.

That is because the council is currently under ‘purdah’ – a period before the general and local elections where events with council involvement cannot be used as a forum by members for political gain.

But councillors Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Michael Andrewes and Matthew Winnington attended and tweeted from the event, which took place at the D-Day Stone in Southsea to welcome back the Torch of Liberation, first introduced after the Second World War.

The Tory administration has now put in complaints about their actions and said it is blatant flouting of the rules.

But the councillors have dismissed the stir they have created and insist they have done nothing wrong.

Cllr Donna Jones, Tory leader of the council, said she had wanted to attend in her role as leader but didn’t because of Mr Lawther’s request.

‘This is a breach of the rules and a breach in the code of conduct and will be dealt with accordingly,’ Cllr Jones said.

‘It’s another example of Gerald Vernon-Jackson and the Lib Dems changing the rules and regulations to their own advantage.

‘Ukip, Labour and Conservative councillors abided by the rules and sadly, the Lib Dems did not.

‘I was deeply disappointed I couldn’t attend as it is a cause close to my heart, but I respected the decision.’

Cllr Vernon-Jackson, who represents Milton ward and is standing as the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Portsmouth South, said: ‘I was invited as a parliamentary candidate and I went as a parliamentary candidate along with other parliamentary candidates.

‘I was there, Penny Mordaunt [Tory candidate for Portsmouth North] was there, Sue Castillon [Labour candidate for Portsmouth South] was there, I was there as a parliamentary candidate and I was in that role.

‘If people are saying that me being there as a member of the audience was wrong, that’s ludicrous.’

Cllr Andrewes, who is up for election in St Jude ward, said he went in a private capacity.

‘My grandfather was involved in D-Day, and I went along and wasn’t on a platform, as it were,’ he said.

‘I went along as a private individual.

‘I am not aware the council can ban someone from being in a public place.

‘I am not going to be banned from going to a ceremony as a private individual for something that is very close to my heart.’

Cllr Winnington said he does not believe Mr Lawther’s advice was correct and added: ‘This is the first I’ve heard of it. No one has even had the decency to tell me they’re making a complaint. It was an open-air public ceremony in my own ward.

‘I had no part in the ceremony itself I just went along to support it. It’s something that’s really important, not just to Southsea, but to the country.’

The council says it is up to the next administration after the elections to consider whether to investigate the councillors’ conduct. Purdah also prevents councils from making announcements about new initiatives.