Today it seems that John Pye is no longer the Conservative Candidate for Cambridgeshire. At least that’s what Conservative Campaign Headquarters think. (Update: This is probably the best story-in-a-headline on the issue- “Tory Party announces that Tory hopeful who beat two Tories but who is not a Tory and refuses to become a Tory quits as Tory candidate for police commissioner“)
In case you didn’t know, Mr Pye had been freshly selected as PCC candidate when it emerged that he wasn’t actually a member of the Conservative party. To add insult to injury, he was refusing to join the party, insisting that this underlined his beliefs and credibility about the PCC needing to be politically independent. Mr Pye is an Independent member of Cambridgeshire Police Authority.
Various reports today contain rumours or a fair degree of certainty that he is no longer the Conservative candidate, while it remains unclear if he will (continue to?) run as an Independent. It’s clear that he had refused to confirm or deny reports that he has stood down and, to TopOfTheCops, that is not the behaviour of someone who is carrying on as Conservative candidate.
This seemed to raise a few basic issues to me.
- Did Cambridgeshire’s Conservatives know they were selecting someone who was not a party member? His candidate statement in support of his bid does not resolve this question. If they didn’t know, why did the Party not tell them? (Update: It appears that Mr Pye was clear to the central party and possibly to people at hustings, but that those who voted by post without attending hustings may not have had the matter addressed in the literature they received)
- If another candidate who was unsuccessful in the selection process had proceeded to run against him they would risk discipline by their party, but if the selection had turned out differently, and Mr Pye had run against the successful candidate, disciplining him would be impossible.
- Is it really a credible approach to declare independence of a political party in terms of membership when you would quite like to borrow their name and logo for the purposes of getting elected?
It also raises the question of when and whether people have joined the Conservatives. If you keep in mind that the Conservatives have a rule whereby members must have joined for at least three months before they can vote in any internal party elections, it is clear that some of the memberships have been rather recent.
By that standard John Pye could not select a candidate, but he could be a candidate! In Northumbria, Phil Butler joined the party just 3 weeks before his selection, suggesting he applied before joining. Again, he could not have chosen a candidate, but he could be one.
A story has reached me that an ex-military type did not get through to the final selection in one force area precisely because he had forgotten to join the party, and when I made similar enquiries of another ex-military candidate, who had withdrawn from the Lancashire selection process at the last minute, he refused to answer the question as to when he had joined. Funnily enough, John Pye is a retired RAF Commodore.
It is looking increasingly like the Huffington Post may have been on to something in February when they said that number 10 was very disappointed in the quality of candidates who had put themselves forward. TopOfTheCops broke the story earlier this week that around the same time the Home Secretary had a secret meeting with Simon Weston, who suddenly declared he was a candidate a few days later. Was there then also a recruitment drive among ex-forces personnel in order to beef-up the selection? Certainly the 31 January date on the initial application form was ignored, with applications only being regarded as closed on most selections on 31 May.
This suggests some easy questions for the media or anyone else when they encounter a Conservative PCC candidate:-
Are you a member of the Conservative party?
When did you join the Conservative party?
Why didn’t you join it before then?
If Mr Pye’s time as a Conservative candidate has come to an end, who takes over as Conservative candidate?
Cambridgeshire had a postal ballot, and the other candidates were Shona Johnstone and Sir Graham Bright. The announcement revealed that the counting system used was one where points are allocated to preferences, rather than being first past the post. The result was that the person with the least votes wins! That’s not at all confusing.
As the results were
John Pye – 1,360 votes
Sir Graham Bright – 1,508 votes
Shona Johnstone – 1,608 votes
it looks like Sir Graham Bright was the runner-up. But it also looks rather close, and it is not clear who would have been preferred if John Pye had not been one of the options.
TopOfTheCops readers may remember an allegation resulting in Shona Johnstone going to court to be tried for criminal damage, where a conviction would have disqualified her from the PCC role. However, this week she was convicted instead of careless cycling, which won’t provide such an impediment. What a curious coincidence that these two things should happen so close together!
So, how will the Conservatives pick their new PCC candidate in Cambridgeshire. Either of the two remaining candidates could justifiably feel aggrieved if they lose out in a return to the existing ballot, but the election is underway and is there really time for a fresh selection procedure?
Whatever happens it seems clear that Cambridgeshire must be added to the list of botched Conservative PCC selections. TopOfTheCops has already told you of a party investigation in the West Midlands, and of virtual primary elections resulting from discontent in Hampshire and Surrey. And there are more. Will the Conservatives sort this out? Will it take a move in the impending reshuffle to provide the impetus for that to happen? If they don’t resolve these issues quickly, an election held on the ‘home ground’ of law and order that could have established electoral momentum may instead do the reverse.