PCC Party Failures #1 – the Conservative Party

A version of this article was published yesterday on ConservativeHome. It is the first of a series on PCC election failures by the four main political parties.


This week, in the elections for the flagship Police and Crime Commissioner policy, the Conservative Party failed to win in Surrey. Yes, you read that right, the Conservatives lost in Surrey. And the party had a good, credible, experienced and pleasant candidate in the form of Julie Iles, but still lost. Technically the party could blame the voting system except they lead the Government that chose it and, even on first preference votes, Iles was only a fraction ahead of the eventual winner, Independent and former Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley.


The woes in Surrey were repeated in Hampshire, yes Hampshire, where Michael Mates lost to Simon Hayes, another Independent and former Conservative Police Authority chair. And in Norfolk it happened again, as Conservative candidate Jamie Athill was beaten by another former Conservative Police Authority chair, Stephen Bett.


What all these contests have in common is that the local Conservative selection processes were felt by some to be so unsatisfactory that the official candidate could not be supported and these elections turned into unofficial primary elections, where voters used their first and supplementary votes not merely to choose a Conservative, but to choose what type of Conservative they wanted, and in all three cases it was the disgruntled ex-Conservative who was chosen. This was not 'sour grapes' from 'losers'. These three went on to be winners, even without the benefit of party support.


In Surrey's case, the party had neglected to shortlist Hurley. In Norfolk, Bett had been shortlisted but rejected after a tally of votes from those who attended either of the two selection meetings. In Hampshire a substantial body of members simply could not believe that 78-year old Mates, hardly helped by the simultaneous trial and conviction of Asil Nadir, could have been picked by the party.


Losing three of what should be 'safe' PCC areas this way was incomprehensible, but the damage was not limited to those. In Dorset, Nick King lost to Independent Martyn Underhill. The latter is no Tory but, in the last weeks of the campaign, allegations surfaced and were published about King's business history. The telling point was not the content of the allegations, which failed to excite most to whom they were sent, but the way they were written, suggesting they came from a Conservative unhappy at the selection.


In the West Midlands, the Conservative candidate took a disappointing 18.5% of the first preferences, compared with Labour's 42%, after a Conservative selection process that resulted in so many complaints that the party had to establish an internal investigation.


I write this, possibly especially aware of difficulties with selections, having been the runner-up for the Conservative nomination in Lancashire. On Friday I watched one former police officer after another receive a boost in the polls, as had been predicted by three separate pieces of research, and wondered whether the results in Lancashire, the West Midlands, Surrey and indeed Kent would have been different if the party had organised a fair consideration of the candidates with police experience that had been offered to them. (I'm not alone in this thought, see one academic's view here on the Sunday Politics North West – from 1 hr 1 min)


Having covered these elections for nine months I have received report after report from these areas and others showing a depth and breadth of concern about selection processes that I have never seen before. The irony is that there were numerous faults in Labour's selection processes, but the Conservatives could not make the most of these as their's were no better.


The PCC elections have been marred by a failure to engage large sections of the electorate at the ballot box, but this itself is built on another failure, the failure to engage meaningful amounts of either the party or the electorate in the choice of candidates. If a party cannot engage anything more than a tiny fraction of their members in choosing candidates, what chance is there that they can motivate those members to enthuse the population at large?


We know that proper, informed postal ballots of members can engage them in candidate selection. We know that full open primaries, not the pale imitation used in many areas, can secure the involvement of the electorate. Yet the party continue to think it acceptable to make selections based on how many supporters a tiny number of candidates can pack into a room at one end of a county. By doing this the Conservatives lost several of these elections, and the momentum they could have created for other victories.


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13 Responses to PCC Party Failures #1 – the Conservative Party

  1. Suzanne Hazelgrove says:

    You may not feel able to print this but you could have added Cambridgeshire to the list had a white British independent chosen to stand, especially after the chaos of the conservative candidate selection, A it was the independents split their vote between two Muslims to let the conservative in with support from less than 3% of the electorate.

  2. Readers may find my analysis useful in this debate – I have listed all the 12 independent candidates with their results & a bit of background. Results & conclusions:

    – 6 are ex police officers, 3 are ex police authority / employee and 2 are ex magistrates.
    – 6 won on both first and second prefernces, the other 6 came second in first round
    – 8 beat Conservatives into second place, with 3 Labour came second and in Lincs it was a contest between two people not in major parties in the final count

    Also I invented an ‘approval rating’ – by multiplying the turnout by the number of first preference votes cast for the winning candidate. The highest amongst the indies was Ann Barnes in Kent with 7.5%. The lowest was Simon Hayes in Hampshire with 3.3%. (Mr Hayes was also lowest overall across all 41 areas)


    For your interest the ‘approval ratings’ of all the other candidates are here as well:


    I am genuinely unsure as to what conclusions to draw but I think Sam is correct in saying that some of the selection processes were too introspective and insular. Perhaps Cumbria shows a way forward.

    But I know that both you and I are political ‘geeks’, perhaps like many who post and read here. I think that the majority of those who did bother to vote last week, paid little attention to the selection process but far more attention to their gut feel that policing should not be driven by party politics.

    The question now is how well will these PCCs work, what will they achieve (and that is not the same as what the Chief Constables and their officers/staff achieve) and what happens in 2016 when these positions are set for re-election.

    And if you want an irreverent & satirical take on the challenge facing all PCCs (no matter what their hue) – you may find this of interest. You may also laugh (or grimace) out loud….


    I look forward to the other three articles Sam.

    • Very much agree with Jon,

      Major quibble with Sam’s article is that I genuinley don’t believe that Labour’s selection process was in any way as problematic as the Conservatives.

      Yes there were issues in the short listing stage but these were in many areas due to lack of candidates (IIRC there were only 3 members in Sussex seriously interested in standing – one of whom pulled out of the last minute – whereas there were at least 14 Tories interested in the same job).

      Other issues to do with undisclosed past offenses and dubious campaign expenses are down to the individual candidates rather than the national process – with 41 or whatever it is selections there really is a limit to how much vetting and detailed oversight an overworked and under-resourced National Executive Committee can actually do.

      But when it came to selecting the actual candidate every Labour member in each area got a postal or online ballot.

      The Tories on the other hand failed to impose a national selection process and so we ended up with absurdly small numbers of activists choosing the PCC for areas like Sussex and Norfolk.

      Going forward lesson 1 is that the whole concept of PCCs is broken and 85% of the electorate expressed that view by staying at home.

      If however we remain stuck with them parties really need to introduce a new police authority level of organisation between region and constituency – which would also be a good idea for co-ordinating other local campaigns as at least in Labour county parties were largely moribund even before they were formally abolished and regions are simply too large to be either fully democratic or particularly effective.

      A grouping of 10-20 (or whatever) constituencies that generally covers several counties and half dozen or more districts and boroughs strikes me as far more practical.

  3. julieiles says:

    The irony is that if Kevin Hurley had been selected as the Conservative candidate he would not have been able to describe himself as the “Zero tolerance ex Police Chief” on the ballot paper and it’s that label that the public clearly bought in to because of their concerns about “politicising the police”.

    • “Ex-Chief” of what, exactly? He appears to have been an ex-Chief Superintendent – I wonder how many voters assumed he was an ex-Chief Constable. He may as well have written “Ex-Chief Inspector”.

      • samchapman says:

        There’s a tight word-limit for a ballot-paper description

      • Tim Marlow says:

        To Left of Lightwater and Ms Iles. Maybe in your role as a magistrate you’d demonstrated or shown more of a hard line on offenders convictions in your campaign it might have been different. The Conservative Part have lost in arguably their safest political county of Surrey on a Law and Order topic embarrassing all round I would say . I’ve looked into this. Former Parachute Regiment TA Major and retired Chief Superintendent who was served in Iraq as a policeman and reservist with over 30 years of policing experience versus local magistrate. Sorry it’s a no brainer who to vote for in my head.

        Plus if you have a look in Hurley’s last year in the Met he was in fact a Temporary Commander in the Met in charge of West London before he retired and he has served in Iraq as an Assistant Chief Constable. Please do some research before you cast aspirations onto others!!!

        Sadly the Tory party who are meant to be hard line on Law and Order have lost out here. I think they picked the wrong candidate. The wool could not be pulled over the publics eyes this time.

      • Tim

        If we were voting for a Chief Constable I’d agree with you. Hurley has operational leadership in abundance, and I’m sure many officers loved his old-school no-nonsense approach.

        But we’re not; we’re voting for a PCC. Their job is to hold the CC to account, and to commission services for the prevention and reduction of crime, and (in time) to support victims. This means understanding the broader social policy context around the drivers of crime, and the partnership landscape that supports it. Hurley has said nothing that indicates he understands this – nor, indeed, that he is not allowed to interfere operationally. Iles, for her faults, is also the chair of CrimeStoppers and, I feel, sees the bigger picture. The Tory selection committee made the right choice for the role; sadly, they were let down by the Home Office, who failed to communicate to the public what the role actually entailed.

        Let’s hope Commissioner Hurley figures it out quickly.

  4. Peter W Skevington says:

    All the analysis and navel gazing seems to miss the point that 85% of the electorate never were and never will be interested in the PCC concept and role. Northumbria Police Service are IMO excellent communicators, arrangers of and attendees at meetings; most of the public in this area are apparently simply not interested in engaging with the Police, unless the victims of or witnesses to crime and/or protracted ASB. We had two excellent credible candidates in Baird and Butler, who, at least campaigned and engaged with some of the electorate, showing them some respect by so doing. UKIP’s candidate was a late choice,given little or no chance to promote himself and campaign, whilst the Lib Dem choice seemed to be virtually anonymous.

  5. Rose Bowl says:

    Conservative Party failures to secure positions that should have been there for the taking are the responsibiity of the Party. Strategically, the opportunity to demonstrate that people across England and Wales were prepared to vote Conservative at a Government mid term point would have offset the inevitable loss of faith from the electorate that governments suffer at this stage.

    They failed to do this because they put too little thought, too few resources and too little leadership into this campaign. Complacency with voters is politically lazy; coupled with arrogance towards selection processes, lack of scrutiny and indifference to outcomes is political suicide.

    The consequences, as candidates like Julie Iles (for whom deep commiserations at being handed a hospital pass) are now experiencing, is that conservative candidates fought with one hand behind their backs against independents who could claim anything they liked, with no requirement to justify their thoughts, policies or spending plans.

    As lessons go in shooting yourself in the foot, this is about the best one I’ve ever seen….

  6. he is not the servant of anyone, save of the law itself says:

    Yes Kent was textbook – the former Police Federation Chair stands for selection as a Tory and the Tories promptly select a ‘successful businessman’ instead. He makes immediate waves with some ill informed comments about Police uniform looking ‘oppressive’ and is promptly ‘obliterated’ (BBC interviewer) by the ex Chair of the Police Authority, standing on a ‘don’t politicise the Police’ platform.
    The end result is that Kent,with 17 Tory MP’s has an independent PCC!

  7. Theo Hopkins says:

    Conservative primaries? I’m in Devon and Cornwall. A Very Big Place.
    The nearest to me was held 41 miles away. No busses in the evening, and that’s a lot of diesel if I went by my own car.
    I would have liked to have gone, but didn’t go.
    Democracy for those who can afford it?

    • samchapman says:

      Except that a proper ‘primary’ isn’t a selection meeting you have to go to, but a real ballot, perhaps postal. They are expensive, but other countries manage.

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