Picking sides

When Michael Crick saidAfter Tim Collins’ withdrawal in Kent, + disappointments elsewhere, Tory plan to recruit lots of independent PCC candidates has failed badly“, I said I thought he had spoken too soon.

Today, Mark Reckless MP revealed the shortlist for Kent Police and Crime Commissioner on an article on Conservative Home. In Mark’s words the candidates are…

  • Finance whizz and ex-UKIP Leader Craig Mackinlay, who came over to the Conservatives in 2005, gave perhaps the most powerful speech, showing a no-nonsense approach to budgeting, cutting crime and policing our borders;
  • Foreign Office man, Francois Gordon, who comes from a long civil service career and worked as an EU desk officer before taking on ambassadorial roles, and is now “European Strategy Adviser” to Kent Police; and
  • Jan Berry, an ex-police officer who for several years ran the Police Federation, the police equivalent of a trade union, and was persuaded by the wording of the PCC oath to stand as Conservative and not Independent.

Now, that doesn’t sound to me like a bad set of people from which to be choosing your candidate. In fact, that’s getting toward having an embarassment of riches. Lest you think I’m making a partisan point, Labour have a similar problem, with 3 candidates in Merseyside, including 2 ex-Ministers and the Chair of the Police Authority. There must be some people looking at these candidate lists and despairing that they can’t all win.

Which brings me to my first point. With the cases of Simon Bullock and Kashaf Walayat, we have already established that the Civil Service is classing this as a national election. What information I have seen on polling rates the local background of individuals as fairly low down in voter’s lists of what they want to see in their Commissioner, and yet both main parties seem to be treating this like a local election, building on the legal requirement that candidates live in the area when they are nominated to have an assumption that they live there now.

If this were a Parliamentary election there would be a fair number of local candidates, but there would also be some plucky souls from around the country pitching up at seats they could never previously have found on a map, in the hope of impressing the locals and renting a second home there.

We don’t seem to have seen a lot of that. Or at least not yet. Nick Ross was rumoured as a candidate, but ruled himself out as he lives in London, where the Mayor is the PCC. Only one each of the Kent and Merseyside threes will be chosen, which suggests that the talents of the other two will be wasted, there being no provision for them to migrate elsewhere in time for the election.

Seems odd. Especially considering that the parties may not have been falling over large numbers of great candidates in some areas. Labour, for example, have had several shortlists of one. For myself, I admit, I can’t quite invent a degree of attachment to the local crimefighting scene in say, Surrey, as I can over the last 20 years in Lancashire, but I feel that some worthy candidates will miss their chance, just because they are unfortunate enough to be eclipsed by someone else in one particular locality.

But, without seeking to favour any of the Kent candidates, we should also consider the impact of one of the names, not on Kent or the PCC office there, but on the current politics around policing.

Jan Berry was the Chairman of the Police Federation. She gave Labour a hard time over police pay, and then was given a job by them as a reducing bureaucracy champion. She didn’t have her contract renewed under the Coalition, whose Winsor review and spending reductions have only seen the spreading and strengthening of militancy within the police.

And then she stands as a Conservative!

I, at least, had known this revelation was coming (pending the selection meeting). Apologies, dear reader, for failing to share that with you earlier, but I really do want all candidates to be able to trust TopOfTheCops.

So, when I tweeted shortly after this story broke about the strange quiet from the cops, I perhaps hadn’t allowed for the delay which sheer shock can cause. The current Federation Chairman Paul McKeever, was asking whether she was standing for a political party, not able, whether because of election protocol or disbelief, to voice which party it might be.

The growing intensity of the rhetoric against cuts, the personal sense of being unfairly targetted that many officers feel, and the group occasions like the 10 May march and the Federation conference all serve to make feeling more militant against the government of the day and create a temptation to see this as being about ‘sides’, with the Coalition parties as one side, and their detractors on the other with the cops.

Those of us on the right of politics who also have a background in policing and crime reduction have no doubt already been made to feel by some like we were on the ‘wrong’ side – a bit like the police officer son in a mining family 30 years ago perhaps. That sense of “you should be one of us, yet you’re not, so perhaps you never were” is out there.

So Jan Berry’s appearance in the blue corner causes a reappraisal for cops. That their former champion should be found on the ‘other side’ means that either she has betrayed them or she appreciates something that they don’t.

There was some reaction suggesting the former. An old unfavourable headline in the Guardian was quickly found, there was talk of a loss of credibility, some covering-up perhaps, and the question “Why Tory“, the four-letter version of Conservative, and often used as such.

The fact or import of one discussion on the legality and propriety of police officers commenting on the election and candidates was apparently missed by one Fed rep, who stated to a Conservative candidate that he was “disappointed she is standing in the name of that corrupt bunch who are determined to destroy the Police“, resulting in this response, which will require an official investigation, and which was what I had repeatedly tried to warn people about only shortly before.

All very regrettable. Cops know all about people saying things in the heat of the moment, and about the need to stay calm. It also applies on Twitter I’m afraid.

I don’t know what Jan will say in explanation for her decision. I hope she can explain to her colleagues why she sees it differently.

For myself, I see a similarity in the position of the government and that sometimes faced by the cops in public-order policing. Neither are responsible for the chaotic scene at which they have just arrived, and both are determined that a sustainable order will be restored by the time they move on to other things. Both may think of themselves as the hero in the piece, and both realise that no-one else involved is going to share that opinion, so they just get on with it.

Perhaps the arrival of someone who can appreciate both points of view will help in moving beyond the confrontation and toward building a manageable future.

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4 Responses to Picking sides

  1. Sam – you have embedded a lot into this post. I will make only a couple of comments:

    For me what is significant about Jan’s shortlisting is the phrase “was persuaded by the wording of the PCC oath to stand as Conservative and not Independent” – since I must ask – what oath? At the moment the oath is not much more than a glint in Nick Herbert’s eye with much medai comment about what it ~might~ contain. But there is nothing definitive – unless Jan was shown an early draft…?

    But that aside – this comment makes it sound as if Jan was hitherto not a Conservative party member. Is she one now, even? Will the electorate of Kent be told the full story?

    But then – will the Party members be given a chance to meet & question the candidates – and then each have a vote in a secret ballot? The evidence at the moment is not all Conservative Party members will be offered that chance. Selection procedures seem to have a come a long way away from public primaries..

    And then we get onto the question of impartiality in the forthcoming oath. Wonder why MPs don’t swear such an oath too?

  2. ianchisnall says:

    As far as Kent is concerned, it would seem that two of the candidates are not usual suspects, whether someone who has been a key member of both UKIP and now the Conservative party really fits that profile is a bit more questionable. However in the reaction to Ms Berry I wonder if this raises another question?

    Presumably if the Government of today was Labour and Jan had been one of the Police Officers currently standing for the party, that the reaction would have been just as strong. Sadly we have a political system which is more about tribes than it is about ideas. This is made much clearer as the two parties focus on the same, so called middle ground. It expresses itself most clearly in clashes at a national level and locally that seem to show churlishness and a greater desire to win the argument than to improve the policies. Clearly those of us who are standing as Independents are not doing so in a vacuum, we each have views and policy approaches which will shape our decision making as PCC. However what we lack is this tribal identity. We may be competent or incompetent, hopefully on a good day we will be inspiring. However our decision to challenge or agree with the Home Secretary of the day will depend on the policy, not the colour of the rosette.

    I can understand why joining a party and seeking their endorsement will help in getting elected. As an Independent I have to win over networks and groups that operate across the area, whilst the political parties are able to fall back on their party structure. We have a much bigger challenge, but if I am successful this process will make me a much better PCC as I will have shown a better level of engagement with the community as a whole.

    My own surprise is not that Jan Berry has chosen the Conservatives as much that she has chosen to stand as part of a political party at all. She could have done what several of us are doing and retained her Independence from party political fear and favour. She would know (thanks to Centreground) that the public do want to see strong Independents in these 41 roles. I was just as surprised that Tim Collins stood as a party candidate. Perhaps these decisions reflect a view that politics really is a closed shop. I would urge your readers who do not share this view to get in touch with their most credible Independent candidate to see if your force area can break free from tribal politics. Let us not rubbish those who are standing for a political party, but rather promote the alternatives (assuming you have one!)

  3. Sceptical of PCC's says:

    It’s a bit more than that. This governement have shown their utter contempt for the Police and Police officers in general. If jan supports this view she needs to say so and she will reap whatever eletorial success that brings.

  4. Always a supporter says:

    As somebody who has a unique insight into the world of policing, and the process of the elections, may I suggest the following: perhaps she felt that the importance of making a difference, and the importance of being the right person for the job was more important as a whole than which political party she stood from.

    In my opinion, policing shouldn’t be politicized in the first place, but if it has to be, then I would rather have somebody who knows something about what police stand and what it is like in the police for than a politician who doesn’t have any comprehensive about the service that they provide.

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