My last post closed by referencing a suggestion that selected Labour candidates had been told to find themselves a deputy with knowledge or experience of policing. Both the suggestion and the post set off denials, so let's be clear – there is no suggestion that Labour candidates were told from the platform to arm themselves with a Deputy with police experience. However, I am told that in the informal groups that occur when the speeches are done, that someone we shall call a 'senior Labour figure' suggested to a small group of candidates that if they lacked such experience themselves it would be wise to do just that.
I've not named the individual, as going into allegation and denial mode would really miss the point. It's not the world's worst piece of advice and not just for Labour…
Now that all of the Labour results and over three quarters of the Conservative selection results are in we might be in a place where we can spot some trends, and the theme of this post is one of them – ex-cops didn't get selected by the political parties. In some sense politics and policing have refused to mix.
Sure, there are exceptions to this rule. Ron Hogg is Labour's candidate in Durham. He's the former Assistant Chief Constable there, and former Deputy Chief of Cleveland. Jas Parmar was selected for the Tories in Bedfordshire. He has done other things, but he also served for five years in the Met. And, (thanking Jon Collins for the reminder) – Phil Butler in Northumbria, John Dwyer in Cheshire and former Special Fraser Pithie in Warwickshire.
However, these guys are the exceptions. In Humberside, Keith Hunter lost out to Lord Prescott. In South Wales Paul Cannon lost out to Alun Michael. In South Yorkshire, the former Chief Med Hughes lost to, well, everybody. For the Tories there was no selection of Peter Walker in North Yorkshire, Jan Berry in Kent, Lance Kennedy in Devon and Cornwall, Joe Tildesley in the West Midlands, George Lee in Sussex, Darren Jaundrill in Thames Valley or me in Lancashire.
In any other election this would be unremarkable, but in this election a couple of other factors come into play. Firstly, it's policing, and people who know about policing might be expected to have an advantage. Secondly, and more importantly, poll after poll after poll has shown that the public believe such candidates to have an important advantage that they like. So, irrespective of whether their knowledge and experience is useful for the job, it is useful for getting elected, which is kind of important in politics.
Yet time and again Tory and Labour have decided on someone else. Why is that?
A number of factors suggest themselves:-
1. These are not individual decisions, but collective ones and groups make a decision on an aggregate of factors, some of which may be incompatible. Group logic doesn't have to make sense – it just has to provide a majority.
2. Some ex-cops have been up against high profile politicians playing on their home ground, and some of the cops have been relatively new to the game. In fact, in this context it is surprising that they did as well as they have.
3. The selection processes cannot be assumed to be designed to produce the best or even the most electable candidates. They seem to be there to reflect the choice of a majority of the selecting group. For Labour this could be either the party membership, or the people choosing the restricted shortlist of one in a third of cases, or a cynic might suggest, the union figures who can influence votes and funding. For the Tories the variety of selection methods used in different areas defy a single explanation, but I have reports from round the country that suggest it can be more about who is in the best position to pack the room with supporters than who is the best candidate or performs best on the day. This suggests that both parties were ill-prepared to implement this reform – that the governance of it has got ahead of the politics.
4. One might think that it is a case of parties choosing people they are familiar with, but not all the ex-cops in question are new to this, some having served as Councillors for some time.
5. It might be that people have a healthy scepticism about appointing a former cop to hold their former colleagues to account – but really the polls and discussions do not seem to show that as a live concern for many people.
6. Perhaps the selectorates don't believe the polls, or think that they represent the fact that the voters don't yet understand the nature of the job and that, when they do, they will find police experience less attractive. That of course suggests a gulf in the level of sophistication on this issue between selectorates and voters which may not stand up to a great deal of scrutiny, but also runs against the problem that if the public don't understand the situation why would anyone believe that their understanding will be meaningfully different by November? Will it all be resolved by an Electoral Commission booklet and a few leaflets, or is it not likely that it will take years of work from PCCs before significant numbers of people begin to understand where they fit?
But there is another point worth considering. Despite our national addiction to party politics a number of Independent candidates have emerged who are willing to have a go and to put their own money behind them, and a number of them are former cops. Martyn Underhill is running in Dorset, Chris Wright and Ian Johnston in Gwent, and (as Ian Chisnall reminds me below) Mick Thwaites in Essex. Nigel Goodyear in Sussex took the step of leaving the Conservatives and his Council seat in order to stand as an Independent.
They face a formidable task, but why are they doing it? Is it because the police pensions set up leaves them with time on their hands and money in their pockets at a relatively early age? Is it an opportunity to right personal or professional wrongs that their police career had let them know about but had denied them the opportunity to change so far? Is it because of their own strong belief in the advantage that would be had post-election if the candidate's prior knowledge enabled them to hit the ground running? Or is it that they feel the tide of anti-politics and, seeing the parties refusing to move with it, feel that they could be swept further and faster than has previously been seen?