Those of us who have been around a while will remember fighting nationwide elections we knew we couldn’t win. European elections were always like this until the nineties, when we suddenly made a (minor) breakthrough even before PR voting was introduced.
So in the scheme of things Thursday’s PCC elections were nothing new.
We didn’t manage a second place but equally our core vote came out, even in areas where the English Party rules or regional party discouragement meant that unnecessarily we did not have candidates in place until the last minute.
We showed that we do have something to say on police and crime and managed to drag our campaigners out for an extra bit of campaigning in a month in which, frankly, we would all rather be at home dreaming of lighter evenings. This can only help the county council elections next year.
But we only put up as many candidates as the increasingly dangerous UKIP which commentators have not failed to notice.
This was in part due to the attempt at a boycott by some in the Party Leadership and the state parties.
There were two motives, as far as I understand it, behind this, one tactical and the other principled.
Given that, we were told, the other parties supported the rise of the independents, there was a real possibility that they too might not field candidates in all police areas. We could stand aloof from the daft policy (which our parliamentarians had voted through parliament) and gain some sort of kudos for not politicising the police – but without the political risk of handing the contests over to the other two main parties on a plate.
Thus was written a new paragraph in the definition of naivete, believing that political parties won’t act politically. The other parties always intended to contest these elections because they are elections. We could learn from this.
The other issue was the matter of principle, that we shouldn’t politicise the police. It is remarkable how many people adhere to this, not just the politically active but also the electorate in general. The number of spoiled ballot papers reflects this rather than the relatively novel electoral system.
We vote in general elections on the army, personal social care, even matters impinging on religious belief. There is nothing so special about the police that they should somehow be exempted from political manifestos. In 1993 I was elected to the county council at a time when the police authority and the county council were one and the same. Should we have boycotted the county council elections on the grounds that we were dragging the police into politics? Of course not. And we didn’t.
The intellectual case against voting and standing was never there. And we have done ourselves no credit by having attempted to give it credence.
Next time – if there is a next time – we need candidates everywhere and in good time with the Party nationally campaigning to win.
* Chris White is a Hertfordshire County Councillor and Deputy Leader (Policy) of the Liberal Democrat Group at the Local Government Association