PORTSMOUTH’S Lib-Dems have been plunged into turmoil over the decision to allow Mike Hancock to stay in his cabinet position.
The News can reveal that he only just clung on to the post after a 10-10 tied vote held by the ruling Liberal Democrat group. And he only kept the job because the chairman abstained, meaning things stayed as they were.
Yesterday there was more trouble for the party when Councillor Eleanor Scott, who was the most senior female Lib Dem on the council, resigned her cabinet job and left the group over the decision.
She said: ‘I’m deeply unhappy with the decision and I’ve done the only thing that I feel I can. I’m sure many in the group are reflecting on their positions. I hope they can all do the right thing.
‘I remain a member of the party and I’m in touch with the pastoral care officer about how I can help to start to put things right with the administration.
‘I confirm that I have previously raised concerns with Lib Dem headquarters in London, and I trust that they will concede that they need to give me, and others here, support to clean out the Augean Stables. There are many good people involved with the Lib Dems in Portsmouth and they deserve a chance now to shine.’
Cllr Scott, who was elected to Fratton ward in 2002, was not at the meeting as she was recovering from surgery.
Another Lib Dem councillor revealed to The News the city’s leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson voted to remove Cllr Hancock from his cabinet.
Scandal-hit Cllr Hancock asked members at the meeting not to sack him as he feared it would provoke a ‘lynch mob,’ the source said.
Cllr Vernon Jackson, who had been a staunch ally of Cllr Hancock, refused to comment on how he voted. But of Cllr Scott, he said: ‘I hope that she reconsiders.’
As reported, Cllr Hancock, who is also MP for Portsmouth South, was suspended from the Lib Dems after party headquarters obtained a copy of a report by QC Nigel Pascoe into his conduct.
It details sexual assault allegations against a vulnerable female constituent. He denies the claims. Police investigated the allegations but are not taking any action.
The source, who was at the meeting on Friday, said almost the entire cabinet voted to remove Cllr Hancock from his planning, regeneration and economic development job.
‘The view was very clear that he should go,’ they said.
‘But there were some people who said he should be allowed to stay as a cabinet member because otherwise you’re giving into a lynch mob that say he’s guilty even though it’s not proven.
‘The thing that had changed this entirely, say from Tuesday, was that none of us had seen it (the Pascoe report).’
Those wanting to remove Cllr Hancock argued that he should go because he had been suspended from the group. Some who voted to keep him are now regretting it, according to the source.
The revelation is at-odds with the statement read out by Cllr Hugh Mason, which said Cllr Hancock was ‘best placed’ to carry on his role.
The source added: ‘It’s a long way from having overwhelming support. Even some of the 10 who voted to keep Mike in the cabinet have severely regretted it.
‘I’m personally ashamed when I see good friends and colleagues from other ends of the country saying “this was a disgraceful decision”.’
Cllr Hancock said: ‘I’m disappointed about Eleanor. Up until very recently she told me she was supporting me. I was shocked. I sent Eleanor a text message on Saturday.
‘I asked her not to do it. I really want her to reconsider her position. I’m surprised and upset.’