Whilst doing the rounds of my campaigning last weekend, I had a long and thoughtful discussion with one resident on the merits of electing Police & Crime Commissioners.
Do we need to politicise the Police? was the first question that I was asked. A question that I have asked myself since the legislation to elect a figurehead for each of the 41 Police Constabularies was passed.
I responded in that I do not believe we are politicising the Police, it was the last Labour Government who politicised the Police, Lord Blair and Lord Stevens are a couple of examples amongst many, this Government has only created elections to elect a figurehead so somebody can be held accountable for Policing in Essex for the first time.
I admit, I was very sceptical in the beginning but with the scandal of Hillsborough fresh in the mind — and five chief constables, in the last six months alone, sacked, suspended, forced to resign or placed under investigation — it appears hard to believe that police leadership cannot be improved and convinces me that electing Police chiefs are actually no bad thing.
Do you think party politicians should be standing? followed. Do you have a problem with party aligned local councillors for example, going onto local schools governing bodies? I asked. No, the gentleman responded. Do you think it is wrong to hold elections if there is more than one candidate for a vacancy on a school governing body? Well of course not, he replied, looking puzzled as to where this was leading, the point is, I explained, we have this level of democracy in schools with political involvement and nobody complains so why not the Police?
Do you know much about the Independent candidate who lives in Shoebury? was the third question. You mean Mick Thwaites, the former Southend borough commander, I replied. He’s a former copper? I was inquisitively asked. We can’t have a poacher turned game keeper running our Police that is worse than a party politician being the figurehead followed.
Who are you calling on behalf? was the final question. I’m calling on behalf of Nick Alston the Conservative candidate? came my final reply. Do you know the Conservatives are the only ones to knock on my door and deliver any information about their candidate – on that basis you will be getting me and my wife’s vote!
Whilst I was delighted that my small contribution may have helped win over this particular resident it has become apparent whilst campaigning over the past few weeks is that people are aware there are elections but do not know absolutely anything about the candidates.
With Police Constabularies being such large areas, it is nothing far short of a scandal that a free election communication was prohibited unlike in General and European Elections.
With the onus on campaigning falling to local party activists, a November election with the cold and dark nights doesn’t create much enthusiasm meaning that delivering literature to inform residents for all candidates is difficult.
I just hope that when the PCC’s come up for re-election, we do not have a repeat of these issues.