I emailed the Lib Dem Press Office earlier to see if there was any news on Mike Hancock’s suspension, or the disciplinary process against him. I’ve tried this a couple of times before, with no luck. I did “Call Clegg” a couple of times too in the past, both times getting no further than the researcher or producer who told me that they wouldn’t put anything about Hancock on air “because it’s sub judice”. The second time was after the case had collapsed, so that was nonsense.
As it turned out today, the Press Office replied to me within the hour, and were very helpful. This was their statement of the position:
“Mike Hancock’s membership of the party was suspended on 22 January 2014 following a QC’s report into his behaviour being made public. A party disciplinary process (overseen by the Regional Parties Committee, a sub-committee of the English Party) began at that point and his membership was suspended pending the outcome of that process. That process was immediately put on hold pending the outcome of the High Court civil action.
Now that the civil action has come to an end, the party’s disciplinary process can, and will resume. The ultimate sanction available under that process is permanent expulsion from the party. Mike Hancock remains suspended until this process is concluded. Nick Clegg has said he has “no future in the party”.
There’s the usual “no future” line from Clegg. Since he first said that about Mike Hancock, whole galaxies have coalesced from the dust of Outer Space to create billions of twinkling stars, and alien life forms on new planets have evolved all the way from primitive bacteria to strange creatures who look a bit like Lembit Opik.
Hancock resigned the Parliamentary whip in June last year. Hancock and Gerald Vernon-Jackson told a local party meeting it was “the best deal they could get”. At that point, his membership of the Lib Dems carried on unimpeded, and he continued to practise as a Lib Dem Councillor in Portsmouth.
The Pascoe Report was indeed “made public” in January. It was “made public” by someone handing out leaked photocopies in the public gallery of a Portsmouth City Council meeting after the City Solicitor refused to entertain the idea of publishing it. The Lib Dems controlling the Council had done everything they could to frustrate Pascoe, smear his reputation, smear that of Hancock’s victim, and delay the Council’s own disciplinary process. From the Lib Dems’ point of view, Hancock’s suspension was something they had done everything to prevent. When the Lib Dem council group first considered it, they declined to eject him and needed another go to come to their senses.
The civil court case against Hancock was already in process at that time, so although the Lib Dems began a disciplinary process against Hancock, they immediately put it on hold to avoid confusing the issues with the court case. Or to avoid publicity. Take your pick.
The case was due to be heard in late June. Hancock’s lawyers had argued in court in May that the case should be suspended as Hancock “lacked mental capacity” to instruct his lawyers – even though he was on the ballot paper at the City Council elections and was running an election campaign with his employee, Lib Dem Cllr Andrewes. The attempt failed, and the June date was confirmed. Hancock lost his council seat to UKIP even though Lib Dems campaigned for him and the local Lib Dem party printed his campaign literature.
Then, on June 18th, Hancock made a grovelling apology and agreed an out-of-court settlement with his victim:
It is now six weeks on from that date. The Lib Dems suspended Hancock because of the seriousness of the allegations made in Pascoe’s report; we now know they were true, because Hancock has admitted as much. The Lib Dems held back the disciplinary process in order to let the court try the matter for them, and despite an admission as clear as any court verdict, nothing further has been done.
Why the six week delay in carrying out disciplinary proceedings? If the matter the Lib Dems wanted determining is “was Pascoe right?”, then we know the answer beyond any doubt at all. The wording of the statement, that the disciplinary procedure “can and will resume”, merely emphasises the yawning gap in time between Hancock admitting everything and the Lib Dems getting round to doing anything. “Can and will resume” is exactly the kind of apparently determined and thorough language you find throughout their numerous layers of Constitutions and Rules. Their actions fall short of the big phrases at every step.
The Lib Dems should announce what the timetable is for dealing with Hancock, and what the process is. What exactly are the Regional Parties Committee going to do about it? Whose evidence are they seeking?
In terms of the wider Lib Dem party in Portsmouth, what is the follow up to the Pinnock report? She exposed members resorting to “raised voices, speaking over others, slamming the table, and storming out of meetings to get their way” and yet decided that it is not bullying. Interestingly, if you Google “Kath Pinnock report”, you now get one of those new Google notices telling you someone has got something to hide:
How very typical of the way the Lib Dems have handled this mess that is!