THE leader of Southampton City Council last night survived a motion of no confidence following claims that he knowingly misled the public over the resignation of a Cabinet member.

Conservatives called an extraordinary council meeting to try to remove Labour’s Richard Williams from office for allegedly bringing the council into disrepute.

But his party colleagues stood by their leader and voted down the motion.

Cllr Williams failed to answer the claims that he misled the public over the real reasons for the sudden resignation of his efficiency tsar, just two weeks into the job, to avoid political embarrassment.

In a council statement, Cllr Williams had said that Cllr Keith Morrell had quit for health reasons.

Cllr Morrell later admitted it was a “fiction” cooked up to avert a damaging public Cabinet split after he had personally told Cllr Williams he was resigning as he could not defend looming cuts and savings.

Last night, Cllr Williams acknowledged “mistakes were made in the way this issue was handled, especially with respect to its communication”, adding “actions have already taken place to ensure that communication procedures have been improved”.

He added that the content of the council statement was based upon information from “a number of third parties and produced in good faith” but he offered nothing more.

His deputy, Cllr Jacqui Rayment, who signed off the statement for Cllr Williams, apologised for “not paying enough attention to the wording” but insisted it was “correct" at the time.

Cllr Morrell himself declined to comment on the row, saying only that his commitment to the Labour party was as strong as ever and that he looked forward to voting down the Tory motion.

Ruling Labour councillors one by one stood up to affirm their confidence in Cllr Williams and praise his abilities as an election-winning leader.

They criticised the Tories for personal attacks on Cllr Williams and said that the debate was a distraction from the business of running the council.

Conservative councillors insisted that the trustworthiness and integrity of the council leader was of public importance.

Tory opposition leader Royston Smith told Labour councillors that by voting against the motion they had publicly branded Cllr Morrell a liar.

He revealed that Cllr Williams had already tried to sue him for calling him a “hypocrite” in a newspaper article.

Councillor John Hannides said that the special meeting was unprecedented in 20 years and said Cllr Williams’ response was “repugnant and insulting”.

He said that Cllr Williams had made no attempt to address the “serious allegations” and questioned whether he took the office of leader seriously.

Liberal Democrat group leader Adrian Vinson, whose party abstained from voting, said that the row raised questions over whether Cllr Williams had the “ability to make the right judgement calls under pressure”.

Cllr Williams was unavailable for further comment following the debate.