I was the Lib Dem candidate for Police & Crime Commissioner in Surrey, although I am yet to be convinced that such roles are necessary or desirable as the right way to tackle the problem, or even if ‘we’ understand what the ‘problem’ is. But our government set them up, they are a publically elective post, and we are in the business of standing for public office.
PCCs were the Tories’ solution looking for a problem: they were determined to put these posts into place whatever the situation, irrespective of the merits or otherwise. So the British public gave a pretty damning verdict on a reform that few understood, even fewer saw the need for, and none seem to have wanted or trusted.
Policing is going down the road of schools and the NHS. Every government meddles a bit to ‘improve’ the service, blissfully ignoring the evidence that the system does not need heavy-handed political interference. Police need to be responsive to local needs, with high quality professional standards, transparently followed and enforced when and where necessary. The public’s trust should be assured through bodies like HMIC and the (sadly rather ineffective and inadequate) IPCC. Perhaps opening up the Police Authorities and reform of the IPCC were what was necessary, not creation of yet more mini-fiefdoms in an already crowded area.
The party went into the PCC elections completely at odds with itself. Many members fundamentally opposed the posts and refused to get involved in the campaign or vote (or voted ‘Independent’). The party ignored the elections, giving those candidates who did manage to secure local agreement to stand no support what so ever.
The party must sort out its approach to police governance, and develop a coherent and Liberal set of policies.
A number of questions must be answered:
• Should the posts of PCC be retained?
• If so, do they need reforms?
• If not, what should replace them?
• Should political parties be discouraged from nominating candidates?
• Should we go further and try to get agreement from the two other main parties (and UKIP) that none of us will put forward candidates (and how democratic would that be)?
• Even if the other parties put forward candidates, should we?
(This position went by default last time, without proper internal discussion and debate. If we are not to stand candidates, this should first be debated and agreed internally, with clear understanding of why this alone of all elected public offices we refuse to give the public the opportunity to vote for Liberal Democrats.)
• What should our policies for PCCs be on such issues as the use of effective resolution, the role of PCSOs, extension of local and neighbourhood policing?
This debate needs to open up within the party soon, and be addressed by our policy makers well in advance of the 2015 general election and the proposed 2016 PCC elections, otherwise we will be in no better position than we were for the 2012 elections.
* Nick O’Shea is Chair of the Mole Valley Liberal Democrats. He was the Liberal Democrat Candidate for Surrey’s Police & Crime Commissioner in 2012, served on Mole Valley District Council between 1991 and 1999 (and group leader 1997-8). His family has a background of police service in Surrey going back nearly a century.