Mike Hancock and Gerald Vernon-Jackson – will the real Lib Dem candidate please stand up?

I can’t believe anyone in Portsmouth, least of all anyone who follows politics closely, was surprised that Mike Hancock has announced he is going to stand again to be MP for Portsmouth South. He has kept himself busy in Parliament, asking questions of Ministers and signing Early Day Motions, and has shown no sign of “winding down”. At every opportunity he has worked his way into the media to comment on any issue he can interest a journalist in – standard stuff for any Westminster candidate.

The really interesting thing in all this isn’t that he has decided to stand at all, but the reaction of his Lib Dem colleagues to his candidature. The News picked up a tweet of mine last week and referred to it in a story they wrote speculating that Hancock was about to make an announcement:

Hancock’s agent, his bag-carrier, office manager, and employee, is the Lib Dem councillor for St Jude ward, Michael Andrewes. Andrewes has never been subject to any obvious disciplinary action for campaigning on behalf of Hancock since his belated expulsion from the Lib Dems. We have several times had the farce at Portsmouth City Council meetings of Andrewes having to withdraw when Hancock has been discussed, as he is his employer. If Andrewes is Hancock’s agent and campaign manager, what sanctions will he face from the Lib Dem party? Andrewes is up for re-election in his council ward this year, and will presumably be standing as a Lib Dem. That is a remarkable arrangement.

The likelihood is no action will be taken against Cllr Andrewes. It was only with extreme reluctance that the Lib Dem council group sacked Hancock from his City Cabinet post last year – the vote tied at 10-10 and had to be retaken anyway when it emerged that the party had broken their own rules on procedure.

All this highlights the ridiculousness of Gerald Vernon-Jackson’s protests about Hancock carried in The News today. The paper always refers to Hancock as a “disgraced” MP, but there are many, including Cllr Vernon-Jackson, who share the disgrace. They covered up Hancock’s manipulations and deceits, and Vernon-Jackson in particular smeared Hancock’s accuser as “one person trying to get some money from somebody else”. He later had to write her a letter of apology when he turned on Hancock and decided she had been right all along.

There is an irony in Vernon-Jackson and other Lib Dems now suggesting that Hancock is just “doing it for the money” as well. I don’t doubt he would welcome a severance pay-off when he loses, but I suspect Hancock also has a point to prove to GVJ. Vernon-Jackson has never been universally popular within the Lib Dems since he arrived in Portsmouth from Newbury, and the deep schism in the party over Hancock’s behaviour leaves relations strained.

In more united times, Vernon-Jackson and Hancock went up to meet Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem Chief Whip in an attempt to save Hancock, and in the words of former Lib Dem Cllr Eleanor Scott came back to their council group saying “they had got the best deal possible”. This allowed Hancock to remain a member of the Lib Dems long after the nature of his conduct had become clear.

You may well say, “Of course a Tory would say that”, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Hancock’s victim has said much the same thing herself:

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Terry Hall and Les Stevens should all hang their heads in shame. The Liberal Democrats could have done something about it ages ago.”

What we have here is not just a disgraced MP, but a disgraced party and a disgraced Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate. Mike Hancock is in a contest with the truth in which Gerald Vernon-Jackson isn’t standing by his side for once, but they both represent the same cheap and unprincipled brand of politics. The Lib Dem party organisation in Portsmouth perpetuated this disgusting and shameful mess, and on May 7th the voters finally have a chance to put an end to it.

Portsmouth South is a two-way fight between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. UKIP make a lot of noise, but they are a divided party locally, and a vote for them can only make it more likely that we will end up with a Lib Dem MP and with Ed Miliband in Downing St. Only a Conservative government can get Eurosceptics an EU referendum, anyway. The betting markets reckon UKIP wins at the election will be around 4 seats nationwide, and certainly neither Portsmouth seat will be one of them.

The Lib Dems have had the blow of being told by the regional party that they are seen as a “lost cause” and that resources are being diverted to Eastleigh, where the Lib Dems are in severe trouble thanks to the efforts of Mims Davies. The Lib Dems have got nothing positive to offer the people of Portsmouth – whether it’s the Hancock or Vernon-Jackson version. It is all just whining hypocrisy. It does them little good to promote websites entitled “Stop the Tories in Portsmouth” when there is an enormous appetite among the fed-up voters of Pompey to “Get rid of the Lib Dems”, who have been a burden on this city for too long.

The “lost decade” of Lib Dem council control while we went backwards in relation to our competitor cities in the south is something we in the Conservative Party are desperate to make up for. Donna Jones and her colleagues have had a busy first year running a minority administration. In the general election campaign we have a positive message based on Flick Drummond’s “Plan for Portsmouth”, and are getting a good reaction to it over the campaign so far.

People in Portsmouth want to see change and want to see this city moving forward. We can’t do that all the time we have the same people who have dragged our name through the mud over the years still hanging around.

Of course general elections are decided mainly on national issues, and of there are excellent reasons for voting Conservative. We have a recovery to protect, an economy to grow, and public services which can only be secured out of that growth. The other parties threaten us again with a chaos of borrowing, and with taxing the economic recovery to death. But in Portsmouth we have an additional, pressing reason to vote Conservative – to continue rescuing the council administration from the Lib Dems, and to clean up the sordid politics of the Hancock/Vernon-Jackson era.

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