THE leader of Portsmouth City Council insists he’s not stepping down over the storm surrounding Mike Hancock’s suspension from the Liberal Democrats.
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said he is not going anywhere because there’s no suggestion from city members of the Lib Dems – which rules the council – that they want him out.
It comes after calls were made by opposition party leaders that he should quit because he hadn’t taken swift action against Cllr Hancock.
As reported, the Fratton councillor and city MP has been suspended from the party over claims he sexually assaulted a woman who came to him for help – which he strongly denies.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘There has been no suggestion from anybody in our group that I should not do the job, and we have a majority on the council. Each year I have to be re-elected as the Lib Dem leader and nobody as ever stood against me.’
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats group has been criticised for its handling of the decision to keep Cllr Hancock in the council’s cabinet.
He has been allowed to keep his position as portfolio holder for planning, regeneration and economic redevelopment after the Lib Dem group vote was split 10-10 over whether he should stay during a meeting on Friday.
Cllr Rob Wood, the group’s chairman, could have swayed the vote but thought the most appropriate thing to do was abstain because of the divide.
And Cllr Hugh Mason, the council’s deputy leader, told The News he didn’t even know Cllr Wood abstained until afterwards – despite members being sat in the same room. Cllr Mason said: ‘While we were in the same room, I could not see the chairman’s hand vote or not vote, because I was looking towards Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson and Cllr Hancock to see what they were doing.’
Cllr John Ferrett, leader of the Labour group, said: ‘If he (Cllr Wood) is a chairman of a group he should be showing some leadership, and to not show any leadership shows the Lib Dems are in a real state of crisis.’
Another meeting could be held over Cllr Hancock’s future in the cabinet after it was suggested certain procedures at the meeting were not followed, though Cllr Vernon-Jackson refused to say what those were.
He said: ‘There is a concern that has been raised that the meeting on Friday may not have gone through things in the proper way, according to the rules.
‘There is a suggestion that if standing orders haven’t been done properly we may have to redo stuff.’
Cllr Hancock didn’t want to talk in detail about the situation. He said: ‘I don’t feel right and I don’t feel in a position to entertain this sort of discussion about my life at this sort of stage.
‘When I am feeling a bit better I will do what I have to do.’