What is it like to be a Labour PCC hopeful?

Obviously, I am not the first person one would think of to answer this question. I am not a Labour candidate and, even if I believed in a multiverse with an infinity of worlds only slightly different from our own, I’m fairly sure that in all of them I would not be a Labour candidate. Had the local Labour party said, “Sam, we’re serious about all this not-politicising-policing stuff, and we just want the best man for the job, and would it be OK if we reached across the political divide and admitted you were that man”, I might well have let them, but for some strange reason this has not happened.

Fortunately, however, one of the things that at least some Labour candidates seem to be at the moment is talkative, even to the likes of me, and so I am able to collate that information, and in an entirely non-attributable way, pass that on.

One thing to note is that many Labour candidates find themselves in a similar position. Sure, while a few have managed either by cunning, manipulation, or sheer dumb luck to have secured a nomination unopposed, this is not true for most. Most find themselves having just gone through a selection process, currently engaged in fighting a real local election, while waiting for the internal party election and the long slog to November. In other words, they may be on the verge of being daunted, for what looks like a solid six months more campaigning at a point of the year where they would normally put their tired feet up. Unlike the Tories, who will have a variety of local selection processes, the Labour candidates on shortlists all face the postal ballot.

Another characteristic may be ‘puzzled’. In a month or so ballot papers will go out with their names on them, and they will go out across an entire force area. For most hopefuls, they will want to influence the decisions of a few thousand needles in a very large haystack. Now, granted, they know where the needles are. Member addresses have been provided, as has an effective email list, where the party has the email addresses, but the party is not posting candidate’s leaflets to members (rather undermining their complaint about the government failing so to do for the actual election). No – with the ballot papers, candidates get 200 words.

200 words. That makes the 400-word guideline TopOfTheCops gives to candidates look like acres of space. It’s not a lot of room to convey your history with the party, what a solid socialist you are, why you might win an actual election, and what you would actually do with the job. Use one of those words for a web address, and you may get more of your message to those people, hence the proliferation of websites.

So you might be tempted to use the access to those email addresses. Of course, you may have a little struggle with your conscience about how this reinforces the Digital Divide, but there’s the far more practical question of when emails become annoying. You don’t want to be spamming the members and being thought of as an irritant, but you want to tell them something.

Then there’s the postal addresses. Posting things is not getting cheaper. Unlike a real election, you can’t just nip down the road and bang your leaflets through a row of terraces at high speed. You’ve pretty much got to use the postal service. A leaflet, an envelope and a stamp multipled by a few thousand potential voters means that this is not a poor persons game – another struggle with the conscience there in a party that believes in equality. A single mailshot to the selectorate could easily cost a few thousand pounds you will never see again.

Finally, in terms of direct contact, there are the hustings. There may be organised hustings in your area. How many is not yet clear, and so the geographical location can be important, potentially favouring or disfavouring certain candidates, but at least there is a chance to speak to those members of the selectorate who bother to turn up.

That raises another issue. In some areas of the country in the Labour leadership election, turnout was close to a third of potential voters. This election is likely to be less compelling to local party members, and there has been a degree of discontent among people who hadn’t found out how to apply before the closing date, or who haven’t survived the shortlisting process. The decisions may be made by fairly small numbers of people, and the candidates have the difficult task of finding them and gaining their support.

So, most candidates seem to be adopting a range of strategies:-

1. Appearance on the doorstep to help with other peoples election campaigns. Those actually running in this year’s local elections are disadvantaged by this, as they need to do as well as they can, and can’t spend much time off their patch.

2. Endorsements from individuals. If a member doesn’t know any of the candidates, perhaps they can be swayed by a major Labour figure nationally or locally who evidently does trust a particular candidate. This is most evident in the Merseyside battle, where Police Authority Chair Bill Weightman is up against former Ministers Jane Kennedy and Peter Kilfoyle. Lists of endorsements have been getting longer and longer, with petty disputes along the way. The voters wait expectantly to see which candidate will put “Uncle Tom Cobbly and all” at the end of their list.

3. Endorsements from Unions. This is not an electoral college decision, but that doesn’t mean the unions are not involved. Labour is a movement, not just a party, and the unions have a parallel system of organisation which can give certain candidates an edge. Already there are stories of certain unions backing certain candidates, although it is not always clear that this is official.

4. Endorsements from Constituency Labour Parties – PCC candidates are doing the rounds of these associations and occasionally gaining their official backing, or at least facetime with their members.

In closing, let’s consider a few points:-

  • It’s very unpredictable. There were complaints that the Merseyside contest was fixed for ex-Ministers, but at least one of the two ex-Ministers will lose, and no-one knows who that is yet.
  • It’s potentially expensive at a personal level, especially with postage costs to members, and the minimalist approach to the ballot paper pack, possibly more expensive than standing in the real election in November.
  • Labour party members are not the same audience as the electorate. Candidates are visibly partisan at the moment, possibly in an attempt to appeal to the activists. They may wish to sound less partisan in November, but will some have said things they come to regret?
  • Single transferrable vote means that those second preferences become important in areas with 3 or more on the shortlist. How many candidates are secretly promising ‘their’ second preferences to more than one other candidate, and how many can actually deliver them?
  • It may be the real election. Who knows how the real election will go, with recent upsets in mind? But the thing about ‘upsets’ is that they are not what normally happens. What normally happens in some of these areas is that the Labour candidate wins – so this is no sideshow. What access will the public have to stats on how different areas voted, and how the votes and preferences were distributed? How will fraud be prevented? What will happen if the returns from certain places are suspiciously high?
  • It’s intense. There are already complaints around the country about how people have been treated in the selection process. Hackles are being raised, and party stalwarts pushed into positions where they begin to think the unthinkable. Would they be better off selecting themselves as Independents, and letting the real electorate decide?
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