Opinion: Parish pump politics and apple pie undermine Police Commissioner elections

Sometimes having a microphone thrust under your nose instantly crystalizes your thoughts. As you hear yourself speak, you realise you have strong opinions when a moment before you didn’t know what to think.

On Thursday night, as I left a Police and Crime Commissioner hustings in Shropshire, I was struggling to gather my thoughts. A reporter from BBC Radio Shropshire, gloriously named James Bond, thrust a microphone at me. “Andy. What did you think of the candidates?”

The hustings was a meeting that nearly didn’t happen. A local Ludlow man had organised it off his own back when he realised that the candidates were not coming to South Shropshire to meet the electorate. Sadly, the three candidates for West Mercia – Conservative, Labour and independent – were far from impressive.

The Conservative struck me as a competent administrator, strong on facts, and well connected. He had even met the Home Secretary days before – as he proudly told us this in his second sentence. The Labour man was, on his account, a great manager, running a public-private partnership healthcare company. Both candidates repeatedly stressed that the commissioner role is non-political, but they were so obviously party men through and through. The independent candidate was of a different calibre altogether. A community activist, he was quiet spoken, at times passionate. He did not ooze professionally honed confidence like the other two. An ex-policeman, Bill Bradshaw was simply an “Honest Bill”.

What these men had in abundance was pragmatics. What they lacked in shedloads was any sense of policy and vision. They uttered good words – on antisocial behaviour, on agency working, on victim support in particular. But they lacked joined up ideas.

None would have gained even a junior job in a communications team. Not one of them brought a manifesto, though Bill had a glossy flyer. The Labour man even boldly declared that he had “just discovered” Facebook! We were promised high profile candidates with personality and communication skills. There was none of that evident at the hustings.

If I had been asked after the meeting exactly what each candidate stood for I would have said “motherhood and apple pie”. As it happened, the BBC reporter asked me for a summary opinion. I heard myself saying:

“We were told the Police Commissioner posts would attract high profile candidates. People with a sense of vision that would transform policing. We haven’t got that. This is no better that parish pump politics.”

I was surprised at the harshness of my own verdict, but the more I reflect on it, the more I think it is spot on.

Whether Police and Crime Commissioners are a good thing or not, we are stuck with them. After the Shropshire hustings, I am worried that the quality of candidates will undermine confidence in the role of the commissioner, and perhaps of the police service itself.

Who will win this election? West Mercia is predominately a Tory area and we are facing a very low turnout of electors. I have little doubt that the Conservative will get the most votes, but may not get the 50% required under the supplementary vote system. That means that either the Labour man or Honest Bill could get in.

My money is Bill. A high profile personality he is not. But perhaps his quiet manner, and his commitment to community rather than politics, is just what we need.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

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14 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 4th Nov '12 - 11:35am

    It looks to me like Police Commissioner elections are undermining Parish Pump politics. At least the latter has some use!

  • Andy Boddington 4th Nov '12 - 1:25pm

    Mea culpa over an error in this article. The independent candidate is of course Bill Longmore, not Bill Bradshaw. Apologies and thanks to Shropshire Lib Dems for pointing it out.

  • Robert Smith 4th Nov '12 - 2:20pm

    For the first time I find that the best way to show what I think of elected Police Commissioners is not to vote, the idea is totally crazy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Nov '12 - 11:37pm

    Andy Boddington

    My money is Bill. A high profile personality he is not. But perhaps his quiet manner, and his commitment to community rather than politics, is just what we need.

    It may be just what we need, but we’ve found out from bitter experience that “quiet manner and commitment to community” does not win you votes in elections to single-person executive positions. If it’s been different elsewhere, someone let me know, but in London our excellent but quieter and more community-oriented candidates have bombed out against the “Boris” and “Ken” high profile personalities.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Nov '12 - 11:41pm


    The Labour man even boldly declared that he had “just discovered” Facebook!

    So? What’s so good about a private company that entices us to give our personal information to them so they can bombard us with adverts? Why do I need to “discover” Facebook? It isn’t difficult to learn a little HTML and put up your own website, where you can format it how you like and no-one is in control of it but you. Why should I use some proprietary format instead?

  • Andy Boddington 5th Nov '12 - 10:06am

    Matthew Huntbach

    None of the candidates in West Mercia are ‘personalities’. That’s why I think that Bill will get through on the second count.

    The Conservative Adrian Blackshaw was interviewed on BBC Radio Shropshire this morning. He was arrogant and condescending to the presenters. The other candidates are to be interviewed in the next few days. It may be that local radio will have a major role in shaping this election in a dispersed rural area like ours.

    No one should be forced to use HTML these days. A WordPress website is easy enough for a 10-year old to set up. Tweet and Facebook buttons are easy to install.

    All candidates at all levels should be tied into social media. Twitter and Facebook are huge opinion formers.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Nov '12 - 3:20pm

    Andy Boddington

    No one should be forced to use HTML these days. A WordPress website is easy enough for a 10-year old to set up. Tweet and Facebook buttons are easy to install

    I am concerned at the way Facebook and Twitter are being pushed at us as if we must all submit to the people who run these systems and the way they choose to do it, as if there’s something wrong if we’d rather not do it that way. Sorry, I want to choose how I communicate myself, which is easily done by setting up my own website, so why instead am I told I have to set up a site within Facebook thing? Isn’t there a fundamentally liberal point here – I don’t want to give information on ME to someone else to use and present as they want to?

    You say no-one should be forced to use HTML. Fine, although I’m perfectly happy using it myself, so why should I be written off because that’s what I prefer to do? I’m not saying people should be forced to use raw HTML, I’m saying people should NOT be forced to use Facebook or any other proprietary system.

    I’ve avoided using Facebook not just because of concerns over its proprietary nature but also because from past experience of setting up websites about oneself one soon gets to the point where feeling forced constantly to update it becomes a huge time-wasting pressure.

  • Helen Dudden 5th Nov '12 - 3:55pm

    This whole subject has been very badly handled in this area, how people can vote for something they know little about is hardly the point.

  • Andy Boddington 5th Nov '12 - 5:30pm

    Matthew

    I am not suggesting that anyone is being forced to do anything.

    Using Facebook and Twitter is not submitting to “the people who run these systems”. It is simply recognising that an awful lot of people use social media and it’s an effective way of communicating and campaigning. Local media monitor my tweets, so it’s often a good way at getting out to the local press too. Of course, I still use the traditional forms of communication such as email, but social media allows me to broadcast comments and stories to a broader audience and converse in real time.

    I’m not writing you off for using HTML. I usually write websites in CSS/HTML. WordPress and Joomla are also wonderful. But none of this blinds me to the power and influence of Twitter and Facebook.

  • Andy Boddington 5th Nov '12 - 5:34pm

    Jean Evans
    I am with you in thinking that we must go with the system as it is, even if we didn’t want it and wish to change it. Elections with low turnouts just inexorably undermine democracy.
    I am disappointed too that there are few Lib Dem candidates for police commissioner. I think that does not give the party a good image when law and order are such important issues for the public.
    And, thanks, you are right about “off my own back” being a folly!

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Nov '12 - 11:57pm

    Andy Boddington

    Using Facebook and Twitter is not submitting to “the people who run these systems”. It is simply recognising that an awful lot of people use social media and it’s an effective way of communicating and campaigning

    I am concerned about the social pressure to use these things. That is very much exacerbated by suggestions that those who don’t are somehow old fogies who are behind the times. I think I’ve explained why there is a good liberal reason to be concerned about a proprietary system where someone else owns and controls the personal information you’ve submitted to it and uses it for their own commercial reasons.

    Apart from that, I already spend plenty of time sending stuff to LibDemVoice; where I’m supposed to find time to be continually “on Facebook” and sending out “Tweets” I do not know. Having been involved with internet communication from its earliest days, I know how very time-consuming it can be, and I have made a conscious decision not to get involved with “social networks” for that reason – I don’t want my life to be taken over by that sort of thing. Go and look at Facebook Detox or what Jenni Russel has to say on Twitter.

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