It is with great sadness that I have made the difficult decision to withdraw from the elections to be Thames Valley’s first Police and Crime Commissioner.
I put my hat into the ring after much soul searching – and after watching the increasingly politicised campaigning with candidates “on message” from their party HQs and with no “local” manifesto. Having been a member of the Police Authority for 9 years I was very concerned about the possible politicisation of policing in Thames Valley and the subsequent loss of public confidence.
However, despite the Home Secretary’s insistence that she wanted to see high-profile, high-quality candidates from beyond the world of politics, this flawed piece of legislation means that it is impossible for an independent candidate to effectively campaign in an area like Thames Valley with 3 counties, 21 constituencies and 2.2 million residents.
The hurdles facing independents include the need to provide 100 signatures in support of their nomination, including name, address, voting area and voting number. To obtain this I have had to directly approach the returning officer for each area and manually trawl through their records – with very little practical support. Political candidates are simply required to demonstrate their party’s nomination.
Without a party political “machine” with a network of MPs, councillors (at county, district, town and parish level) and party loyalists practiced in campaigning, the 2200 square miles of Thames Valley presents an impossible challenge.
The deposit required to stand has been set at £5000 – 10 times that asked of candidates standing as an MP and the cap on campaign spending is £303,303. Without access to party funds, unless an independent has substantial personal wealth or rich friends it would be difficult to raise the funds needed to effectively campaign right across Thames Valley.
The government has also refused to fund a mail shot to inform residents about all of the candidates – a democratic service paid for in all parliamentary, mayoral and European elections. Instead the government has offered candidates 300 words on a web site which will be available just 3 weeks before the elections. And the 300 words include the name, address and telephone number for my agent. So with, effectively, only 250 words to explain my skills, experience and manifesto this really is an election by sound bite and the public deserve better.
The people who don’t regularly access the internet, people with sight difficulties and those who are vulnerable or isolated will not know about the range of candidates and what they stand for – if they are even aware of the election at all. And the unfamiliar 2nd preference voting system is likely to further confuse the public.
These are elections which nobody wanted, which few people know about and which, despite the insincere rhetoric of government, have turned into yet another party political campaign. And it is interesting that the architect of this policy, the former Policing Minister, Nick Herbert MP, has himself walked away from the problem, a mere 9 weeks before the elections: a move that can only be interpreted as moral cowardice.
With the odds stacked against independent candidates – a challenge exacerbated in Thames Valley given its size and geography – I have made the difficult decision not to stand in these elections.
This is a flawed policy that had been badly implemented and in these political elections I believe that the public are the real losers – uniformed about the election, ill informed about the candidates and what they stand for and with a serious risk of the politicisation of policing.
November 15th will not be a good day for policing in England and Wales.
(former Chairman of Thames Valley Police Authority)