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Hancock tells Clegg "end dictatorship over party"

Peter Henley | 13:42 UK time, Sunday, 19 September 2010

Portsmouth's Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock has written to his leader Nick Clegg calling on him to "end the dictatorship" of his ministers over the party.

In the letter, Mr Hancock accuses him of "abandoning a key aspect of Liberal Democrat policy in supporting the welfare state" by going along with with Conservative policies to cut benefits.

And he calls on the Deputy Prime Minister to ensure decisions by the coalition government do not go beyond the democratic structures of the party. Traditionally, the Liberal Democrat Conference has ensured that party members have the final say on controversial issues such as academies and free schools.

In an earlier interview with me Mr Hancock said "We have handled many things very,very badly and we've got to learn.."

He cites the VAT increase, cuts in the school building programme and threats to target welfare cheats saying "I'm already struggling myself on so many issues. At the moment I don't see the defining of policies clearly so that people understand."

Mike Hancock MP

Mike Hancock MP

"People have very long memories. I remember the Winter of Discontent - rubbish piling up in the street and the dead going unburied. I don't want to see us indiscriminately hack into benefits and the innocent suffer along with the guilty. We will have to work very, very hard indeed to convince people that the coalition is working and at the present time I don't think we're doing that successfully."

The MP for Portsmouth South says backbenchers have been left "hopelessly" ill-informed about the progress of negotiations over cuts in the benefits budget.

"Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and Vince Cable were present in the room, but not one of them told us that Osborne was taking four billion out of welfare. They knew and they should have told us. If a coalition is going to work it has to be an equal partnership of Tory and Lib Dem backbenchers as well as the party nationally having some insight into these matters."

"I don't want to be told by Nick Clegg that this is how it's going to be. I want to be asked by Nick Clegg, is that what you want to see happen?"

Mr Hancock says he has warned his party leader against holding a referendum on the voting system on the same day as local elections, describing it as a "gift to our opponents." He believes the vote will go against Liberal Democrats, a situation he believes would be "horrendous" for the party.

"One year after an election, having to make very painful decisions that are affecting the whole nation, this is the first time that people get to show their resentment at what's happened and you are asking them to change the voting system. I just think that it is a gift to our opponents and we will live to regret it."

"Nick Clegg said that he talked to everyone about it and they all said it was the right thing to do. The one group of people that he didn't talk to was the parliamentary party."

"I will make a determined effort to win that vote but if we lose, and there's little or no chance of repeating it, then I will be very, very concerned about where the coalition goes from there."

Mike Hancock says he is "straining at the straps" in his relationship with the party. The former Labour and SDP member is not attending conference.

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