Refusing to mix

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?


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11 Responses to Refusing to mix

  1. ianchisnall says:

    Hi Sam, as you might expect I support many of your comments in this post and value your integrity for challenging some very odd decisions by the party you are a member of (no odder than the Labour party). For my part this is evidence of how far the parties have slipped in their grasp of the electorate that they ‘represent’ in their communities. If we were to see an upset on 15th November with a much lower headcount for the two larger parties than the Police Federation were suggesting in their earlier analysis, what would this do to persuade these powerful organisations (despite a very small membership nationally) that they need to rethink their ideas?

    As we get the analysis of who is standing and where, I forsee something of a re-run of the Siobhan Benita arguments. She might not have commanded the support of Boris (by my own analysis she did beat Ken). However what is left behind is the role played by the system to disadvantage her. Along with the bias by the broadcast media, the obstacles such as large deposits, and the need to communicate across such large constituencies. These things will either be seen as further reasons to favour the underdogs, or else will lead to rancour after the election.

    I would also like to add in the name of Mick Thwaites in Essex who was one of the first police officers to put his name into the hat (we both launched our campaigns on 13th February) to your list.

    • samchapman says:

      The Police Foundation analysis could only map past results on to a future process, and cannot therefore take account of special features in this election that may help independents.
      Blogging at 2 in the morning means I have missed an obvious example in Essex with Mick Thwaites, so I will amend the main text.

  2. chriswdrew says:

    One factor is that the “selectorate” is concerned to pick someone who will make a good campaigning candidate, because without that quality, there’s no victory and then it becomes irrelevant how good a PCC s/he might have been.

    As the skillsets for being a good candidate are quite distinct from those of being an effective PCC (or Councillor, or MP for that matter), selecting a candidate who has both skillsets is not always going to happen.

    The skillsets for being the political driver (PCC) or also different again from those required of a senior or chief officer, which is perhaps whilst there have been many who have achieved prominence and success in business and then perform with considerable less success in government (Davies, Sugar et al.)

    • samchapman says:

      Fair points, though I’m far from convinced that good campaigning candidates have win through. A campaign for the electorate is different from a campaign for a selectorate. We’ll see, I suppose, in November.

  3. John Couch says:

    Have followed your blog with interest after getting through the initial selection processes for the Gloucestershire (Tory) post. I served in the force for seven years but resigned to pursue a career in HM Customs. I began to get excited about the possiblities of a new career in which I felt my experience in policing, fraud and drugs investigation, senior level public sector management and administration, indirect taxation at home and overseas, and local constituency work would perhaps stand me in good stead. However, it was not to be. Maybe being the same age as Prescott was a disadvantage, although, unsurprisingly it didn’t spoil his chances!
    I am very uneasy regarding the high number of Councillors who have been selected, although, fortuitously, this has not been the case in Gloucestershire.
    The problem for elected Tories will be controlling the balancing act between a non-political stance and the necessity to toe the party line. The public will not, I fear turn, a blind eye to this, and are more likely to vote independent.

    • samchapman says:

      I’ve been repeatedly asked in selections about something close to your last point, along this format…

      If the party (or the public or the police) wants you to go one way and (one of the other choices) wants you to go another, which will you choose?

      Whichever form the question had I just gave my honest answer – I will do what I consider to be right, no matter who it agrees or disagrees with. Sometimes this will mean suiting the public, police or party, and sometimes it will mean showing leadership by explaining why you differ.

      Maybe that’s a bad answer, but for me the only possible one.

  4. The mechanics of the selection are all important.

    Given that the Tories sometimes (but I believe not always?) went for selection meetings open to all members is there a pattern for the most local candidate to the place where the meeting was held winning simply because they were known personally to more of the members that turned up on the day (which would certainly seem to explain the selection of a Sussex candidate with let us say an extremely thin cv but who happens to live near Burgess Hill where the meeting was held)?

    I’d also be very interested in what the actual attendance was at these meetings and how many eligible Tory members in each PA area were actually able to vote.

    In Labour’s case we have been very open (which is not something one can always say): we held a postal ballot open to all members and have published not only the results for each contest but also the turnout – which while not huge was pretty much par the course for internal elections.

    So given that in a number of contests in the South the actual November 15th vote can only be the coronation of the Tory candidate the only electorate that matters would seem to be whatever presumably tiny-ish percentage of Tory members actually turned up at those selection meetings.

    And what incidentally happened to those open primaries David Cameron almost-but-not-quite-promised?

    • samchapman says:

      You make an interesting point on Conservative selection procedures. Some have been postal ballots, some meetings open to the public, some meetings for party members, and some have had numerous meetings to allow for travelling distances. Different approaches have brought different problems. Undoubtedly, where selections have been closed and happening in a single location, geography has the possibility of becoming a serious issue.

      I’ve noted before that Labour had a relatively good final stage. The open publication of results and the involvement of all members have been commendable, though my personal preference would be a true primary, which is relatively expensive. The first stages were more problematic for Labour, and the involvement of unions in the final stage has yet to be explored – but overall the Conservatives have lessons to learn here.

      A habit in some areas whereby Conservatives keep numbers of votes secret, and having methods of choosing candidates which favour certain members and candidates over others, even where this is not intended, are not really credible or sustainable in modern politics. Neither is a culture of fixing selections, which has already been alleged by a number of Labour commentators about their own party – so no side emerges from this covered in glory.

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