Earlier in this election I was advised by one candidate to take care about what questions you ask, as it can reveal more about your plans than your actual statements. It was a fair point, and one that police forces and police authorities may need to consider. Some have taken to publishing the questions they receive from candidates, or at least the answers to them.
Some thought this was a wonderful idea, but I have significant reservations. If a candidate is bright or well-informed enough to ask the right questions, why should less bright or less well-informed candidates benefit from their work, when they can then pass off the results as if they were their own.
And there also seems to be a bias in what answers are published. Is it just the answers to written questions, or just the answers that are most interesting? At a candidates briefing we were told that we could ask what questions we liked, and could report them, but could not attribute statements to those who were present, so I'll not name the source of my favourite questions by a candidate so far in this election. They were at the end of a detailed presentation from the police authority and partners and related entirely to some basic matters:- “First of all, what is 'Lancon' and secondly 'what is a B.C.U.?'
The Police Authority has never to my knowledge published the response, that Lancon is short for Lancashire Constabulary, and that B.C.U. is a Basic Command Unit – often thought of as a Division, yet for many officers and other professionals these questions reveal a stark lack of basic knowledge that tell them just what they want to know about a candidate.
One tale I have heard this week makes the wider point. One candidate asked his force how many police houses they had on their books, which revealed there were quite a few, worth quite a bit of money. The answer was published and a rival candidate has thanked the person who asked, as now it has allowed the rival candidate a bit more leeway in their budget plans.
Authorities and chief officers need to respect the candidates who are better prepared, who ask them such questions, or who take time to check out the operational impact of promises before making them. If they don't allow these candidates to benefit from their natural advantage then they are much more likely to end up working with candidates who know and understand very little of what they need to, and will find their time consumed by endless fights to implement promises that should never have been made.