THE opening salvo has been fired in the battle to become Portsmouth South MP – after disgraced incumbent Mike Hancock declared he would stand as an independent in the general election.
Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for the seat, says his former friend and party colleague ‘doesn’t stand a chance’ of winning and believes it is a two-horse race between himself and Conservative Flick Drummond.
Announcing his intentions yesterday, 68-year-old Mr Hancock said he had been urged to stand again by supporters and constituents he had helped over the years.
‘I want to fight this election and I want to fight to win,’ Mr Hancock told The News.
‘I have had a lot of support over the past few weeks and months. People have actually come to me and said, “Mike, you’ve got to stand.”
‘I was visiting a friend in hospital and people visiting the person in the next bed came over to me, shook my hand, and said they hoped I would stand. I couldn’t believe it.
‘There will always be people who throw stones and I’m going to have to put up with it. But people want me to get back. Of course I’ve still got the fight in me.’
He added: ‘I’ve not spoken to Gerald for more than a year. It’s up to him to fight his own campaign.’
Over the past year Mr Hancock has suffered bouts of severe ill health with long spells in hospital recovering from major heart surgery and mental health problems.
It came after he admitted he ‘crossed the line’ after being found to have formed an inappropriate relationship with a vulnerable female constituent who came to him for help.
He resigned from the Liberal Democrats in June 2013 and then lost his seat as a Fratton councillor last May.
On Mr Hancock’s decision to stand on May 7, Mr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘No-one is surprised. But I think everybody knows Portsmouth South will be very close between myself and the Conservatives.
‘I don’t think anybody thinks he (Mr Hancock) stands a chance.’
Asked how he feels about standing against a former friend, Mr Vernon-Jackson, said: ‘I have been colleagues with Mike for many years, yes.
‘But my job now is to make sure that we don’t end up with a Conservative MP in Portsmouth South, and that’s what I will concentrate on doing.
‘I’m the only person who can beat the Conservatives.’
Ms Drummond said it is up to the voters to decide who is the best candidate, while Labour’s Sue Castillon said, ‘Portsmouth South voters know the Mike Hancock story.’
Ukip candidate Steve Harris and the Green Party’s Ian McCulloch were unavailable for comment.