Chris White writes: Approving Police Commissioner candidates

Readers of LDV will have noticed that there is an announcement about Police Commissioner candidates – presumably placed by the English Party.

Of course, none of us want these elections (and most councillors in other parties don’t either) but it’s in the Coalition agreement and so we are to an extent stuck with a particularly silly bit of the Tory manifesto. Such, I guess, is the nature of Coalitions.

What is troubling, however, is the fact that the English Party has decided to play the centralist card: candidates need in essence to be approved like parliamentary candidates.

One of the main objections to this piece of impending legislation is that it takes powers away from councillors and transfers them to someone mightier and less representative of the diversity of the people being policed.

The right and proper people to take on local roles are local councillors or those aspiring to be local councillors. These are local elections and the English Party, which always claims to champion devolution to regions, has reserved to itself a process which has frankly nothing to do with it.

Worse still, we are given to understand that the selection rules may not be available until November – meaning that these high flown candidates will not be in place until less than six months before the likely election date of May 2012.

As you might imagine, Lib Dem council leaders and group leaders have expressed fury. A number of us are appealing to next week’s Federal Executive to acknowledge that these are local elections, both philosophically and practically, and that the selection process should be undertaken in the same way as for (say) county councillors.

In particular, this process needs to take place now so that the Lib Dem message on crime and disorder – and why your Police Commissioner needs to be a Liberal Democrat, not a reactionary – starts being pounded out in the local media and in Focus from the early autumn at the latest.

Mark Valladares this week eloquently critiqued the English Party’s record on pointless bureaucracy – and its fundamental unaccountability. There is no English Party conference. The leaders of the English Party are indirectly elected by an indirectly elected electorate – something that should have passed into history with the last Doge of Venice. Indeed the top posts are contested by an electorate which can be counted more or less on the fingers of two hands.

The result of course is an outfit rather detached from the necessities of campaigning.

Once the battle to localise the selection of Police Commissioner candidates has been won, we should perhaps tidy up our over-complex constitution and pass the English Party’s functions as far as possible to the regions and local parties.

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14 Comments

  • In particular, this process needs to take place now so that the Lib Dem message on crime and disorder – and why your Police Commissioner needs to be a Liberal Democrat, not a reactionary – starts being pounded out in the local media and in Focus from the early autumn at the latest.

    You want to politicise policing!

    Do you have any idea just how reckless this idea is? And how open it makes policing to corruption – local politicians looking out for the mates and colluding with the Police Commissioner from their party?

    Surely, above all else, the police should be politically neutral and not be beholden to any special interest (cf The Met)?

  • @g you seem tp have missed Chris first paragraph.

  • The very idea of elected police commissioners politicises policing.

    Voters, faced with a choice of candidates, will base their decision (if they bother to vote at all, or feel informed enough to do so) on either:
    – party political allegiance
    – ‘I’ve heard of him. No idea who she is.’
    – whoever promises to be ‘tougher on crime’

    Didn’t Boris make reducing knife crime a feature of his mayoral campaign? How’s that going, Londoners?

    One person in charge where it’s now a committee of people.
    One politician where it’s now people who have some idea what they’re doing.
    And it’s been raining all morning, again. All too depressing.

  • Simon, I see no attempts to oppose this idiocy, just a breathtakingly cynical willingness to collude for party advantage.

  • Chris – I could be wrong but I don’t think the Federal Executive has power to intervene in such matters (other than the strongly worded letter at least!) as candidate selections are reserved to states

  • Simon McGrath 16th Jul '11 - 11:04am

    Two points.
    Firstly – should we be fighting these elections at all. Not because we might do badly but because there is an argument that they should be filled by the best person for the role and we should consider supporting well qualified independent candidates.
    Secondly I have no idea if the process for approving parliamentary candidates is the right one but there absolutely needs to be some level of central scrutiny just as there is for say ther GLA and Mayoral candidates in London.

  • Paul Griffiths 16th Jul '11 - 11:42am

    In this forum, we can take it as read that we oppose the idea of P&CCs and move on to our response to the fact that they are now inevitable. These are political posts, and we should certainly contest them. The PPC approval process may not be the best fit, but it is more robust than the local candidate approval process, which seems to me to be excellent in some places but weak in others.

  • Chris White 16th Jul '11 - 1:36pm

    It is an interesting point about the Federal Executive. But given that the English Party is arguably in breach of its own constitution (intervening in matters properly the remit of local and/or regional parties), it may well be that the FE would need to involve the English Party Appeals mechanism. I am, however, hoping that an FE debate will make the English Party see sense. The English Party is extremely fond of saying it devolves everything to regions (including in my experience inappropriately referring back to a regional executive a complaint about that regional executive) it might be nice to have some consistency.

  • Paul Kennedy 17th Jul '11 - 12:11am

    3 points:

    1. The coalition agreement didn’t commit us to supporting the misleading supplementary vote which nobody seems to understand. So why didn’t we at least insist on the alternative vote for this? Without AV we should definitely be voting this nonsense down.

    2. The one area which clearly needs an independently elected commissioner is London where we are forced to put up with a Tory party appointee who will simply do the party’s bidding, especially where there is controversy over the role of the Mayor and Tory politicians as in the News of the World hacking scandal. The coalition agreement didn’t say we wouldn’t have one in London. So again we should be seeking an amendment or voting this nonsense down.

    3. However, if, notwithstanding our opposition, this nonsense gets through, there should be a strong argument for the commissioner to be from a different party than the council administration. Given that most councils are controlled by the Tories, we should be fighting hard to win and make the local council more accountable.

  • Tony Dawson 17th Jul '11 - 7:19pm

    Hywel says that: “candidate selections are reserved to states” And he is right, in principle. But my understanding is that these elections take place in ‘constituencies’ across groups of English local authority areas, hence could be left entirely to each group of local authorities to co-operate with each other to fill appropriately. You know: ‘devolved’. One of those words we used to believe in.

    The English Party is an unnecessary nonsense and, in a Party hard-pressed for cash, should be dispensed with at the earliest possible opportunity. Can anyone name three things they have ever done which are useful? If they wanted to do something useful, they could lobby hard for the elections to be held on a different day to the next Local Elections. I am not holding my breath.

  • Jonathan Davies 17th Jul '11 - 9:36pm

    The English Party Executive (which includes all the Regional Chairs) discussed this at its meeting yesterday. It unanimously agreed:

    1. All candidates for Police Commissioners must be approved in accordance with the Party’s standard approval processes. We may regret the transfer from police authorities comprising county councillors to the new commissioners, but if the legislation is passed that will be the reality we will have to deal with. The elected commissioners will have very wide powers – indeed our argument is their powers will be too wide. They will be standing in high profile elections. Police commissioners will have more powers and fight a higher profile election than back bench MPs, so it is entirely reasonable for the Party to require our candidates to have the same competencies as we require of our Parliamentary candidates. This requirement for approval is nothing new – since directly elected mayors were first introduced the relevant regions have required all candidates for those post to be similarly approved.

    2. The selection must be done using a one member one vote ballot, with a set of rules sufficient to withstand any scrutiny and challenge. Readers of the Standard will know that one aggrieved candidate rejected from the shortlist for the post of Mayor of London challenged that process through the courts – he was unsuccessful because the Party’s rules were sufficient to justify the decision the short listing committee had taken.

    3. We have a timetable which will enable the selections to be completed, assuming there are sufficient applicants, by mid-November. There is no reason why local parties and potential candidates cannot be campaigning on the issues in the meantime – indeed doing so may help an individual’s chance of winning a selection ballot.

    Jonathan Davies
    Chair of the English Party.

  • If I had had any doubt as to the wisdom of what I wrote, that doubt has now evaporated.

    Of particular note (in addition to the helpful comments above by Mark Valladares):
    ‘They will be standing in high profile elections. Police commissioners will have more powers and fight a higher profile election than back bench MPs, so it is entirely reasonable for the Party to require our candidates to have the same competencies as we require of our Parliamentary candidates.’
    The same can be said of many council leaders other than mayors, especially those who have led large metropolitan or county councils. The logic of the English Party argument will escape anyone outside the charmed circle.

    No-one has suggested that there should not be one member one vote.

    The track record of the English party in dealing with those who ‘campaign in the meantime’ is lamentable. And there is a huge difference to the media (who will matter big time) between a wannabe candidate and an actual candidate.

    As for ‘mid-November’: QED.

  • Mark

    A member of my local Police Authority is so incensed by this that he wishes to ‘stand for the English Party’. I have pointed out that he needs to be a regional conference rep, then needs to be elected by regional conference reps onto English Council, then needs to be elected by English Council….Not sure he’s going to find it that easy!

    To be fair, the election of the Doge of Venice was a little more complex, but was clearly made of the same stuff: ‘Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the forty-one who actually elected the doge.’

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