A friend of an under fire Lib Dem Cabinet member at the heart of a ‘love triangle’ newspaper story has hit back at critics who have suggested she is not doing her job properly telling Eastleigh News she is suffering from poor health and is awaiting an operation.
It was reported in the Daily Mail on Monday – and the Daily Echo all week – that Hedge End Cllr Louise Bloom’s long-term relationship with Eastleigh Council Leader Keith House broke down earlier this year and that Cllr House had become close to another separated Councillor – Tonia Craig.
After Cllr House posted photo’s on Facebook of himself and Cllr Craig on holiday in America, Bloom referred to the Eastleigh council boss as a ‘liar and cheat’ and Cllr Craig as a ‘replacement’ on twitter, attracting the attention of the national press.
In June Craig was appointed to the council cabinet – an eight strong committee that takes executive decisions – on which Cllr Bloom also sits.
In Eastleigh, cabinet members receive an extra £7500 in councillor’s allowances for attending monthly meetings that boosts their annual allowance up to £13,000.
In July Eastleigh News asked Cllr House if there was any truth in the rumour that he had split up with Cllr Bloom and had started a relationship with Tonia Craig.
Cllr House confirmed that he and Louise Bloom had parted but said that he and Councillor Craig were “just good friends.”
Eastleigh News contacted Cllr House earlier this week to ask him if the status of his relationship with Cllr Craig had changed but he declined to comment although Craig has been quoted by the Daily Echo as saying “I was on the Cabinet before anything happened.”
A Lib Dem insider had previously told Eastleigh News that they thought House and Craig were more than just good friends but added that they also thought Cllr Craig had earned her cabinet seat solely on merit.
In an email, Eastleigh Lib Dem Deputy Leader Anne Winstanley explained to Eastleigh News that although council leaders were entitled to choose and appoint members to their cabinet, in Eastleigh, members of the Liberal Democrat group voted on cabinet appointments democratically by secret ballot.
Another Lib Dem said it had always been intended that Cllr Craig would stand for Cathie Fraser’s cabinet seat on the latter’s retirement – subject to ballot.
Since Cllrs Craig’s election to the cabinet in June, Louise Bloom has not attended cabinet, missing five meetings making a total of nine of her eleven scheduled meetings missed.
This contrasts with her record over the previous six-month period prior to the relationship breakdown when she attended 12 out of 13 meetings.
A spokesman for Eastleigh Borough Council confirmed that councillors are still paid their allowances provided they attended just one meeting every six months and that Cllr Bloom had fulfilled her constitutional obligations as a councillor until next March.
There is press speculation that Louise Bloom is avoiding a confrontation with House and Craig by avoiding meetings.
But last night a friend speaking for Louise Bloom told Eastleigh News that the councillor was not avoiding her former partner but had been too unwell to attend meetings.
The friend said that despite the Grange Park councillor being heartbroken by recent events she was still managing to continue her work on the behalf of local residents.
Eastleigh News was told the stress of the break-up had taken a toll on Bloom and had aggravated a longstanding underlying medical condition.
She is taking medication and is receiving counseling, but despite this the friend said Grange Park residents would not notice any difference in casework response times.
Eastleigh News was told that although Cllr Bloom’s email auto-responder is sending out a message warning that emails were not being monitored frequently, the mailbox was in fact still being accessed daily and that every email was being read and responded to, “just not as fast as she would like.”
Cllr House is a senior figure within the Liberal Democrat party who sits on the party’s National Federal Executive.
As well as being leader of Eastleigh Borough Council, House is leader of the opposition on Hampshire County council and sits on Hedge End Town Council and Bursledon parish council as well as several outside bodies.
Together House and Bloom have dominated local politics in Eastleigh and Hedge End for 14 years making a formidable team in the chamber and committee rooms.
Bloom would often loyally rise to her feet to defend House from opposition criticism once telling opposition members:
“If only you knew how hard that man works for Eastleigh.”
Eastleigh opposition parties have been largely united in their criticism.
Andy Moore, the Ukip county councillor for Eastleigh East said he was writing a letter of complaint to Nick Clegg while his fellow Ukip county councillor Tony Hooke was quoted in the Daily Echo accusing Keith House of flawed judgement and calling on him to step down.
Patricia Culligan the Ukip PPC said that non-attendance at council meetings ‘poisoned’ the public perception of politicians.
“That any councillor can claim for expenses or other financial recompense whilst openly admitting their non attendance is totally unacceptable.”
The Eastleigh Labour Party PPC Mark Latham said:
“Our concern as residents in Eastleigh is that several cabinet members in EBC, including the leader, have taken their eye off the ball at a crucial time, when the draft Local Plan – so important to the future of our borough – is being approved.”
The Conservative PPC Mims Davies tended to agree saying:
‘This is a personal matter for those involved. However, these very unfortunate issues are undoubtedly distracting from the real concerns facing Eastleigh which the current Leader, cabinet of the borough council and all elected members should be working together to tackle.”
Cllr Bloom told Eastleigh News in a short statement:
“My main concern now is my family and trying to rebuild my life. I just want to get through Christmas with my family and then face the fact that I will have to find a new home in the New Year whilst trying to recover from a major operation.”