Liberal Democrats decide to pass up on fighting Police Commissioner elections (mostly)

The Liberal Democrat Federal Executive (FE) decided this week that the federal party will not be providing any financial backing to Liberal Democrats wishing to stand for election as Police Commissioners. The expectation is that instead the party will end up backing independent candidates, although it has been made clear that local areas can decide to field candidates if they wish to – albeit without any financial backing from the central party.

The strong preference given, however, is for Liberal Democrats to back independent candidates. As FE chair and Party President Tim Farron wrote to regional parties:

Individual Liberal Democrats may support non party candidates. This is a continuation of the view that Liberal Democrats in government and parliament have been expressing as the legislation has gone through Westminster: that whilst effective accountability of the police is essential, it is imperative that operational policing does not become a political football.

The wording of the Federal Executive decision leaves open the option of helping to fund the campaigns of independent candidates and it has been made clear that, unless there is an official Lib Dem candidate, party members will be free to campaign for any “appropriate” independent candidate.

London police. Photo courtesy of Louis Kreusel on FlickrThe use of “appropriate” provides a check against party members campaigning for an extreme candidate, such as one from the BNP, as members so doing could be expelled from the party. It also leaves open the question of whether in some contests different Liberal Democrat members may end up backing different candidates after the same post.

There was a lively debate and vote at the Federal Executive to decide on this policy which, as the party’s democratically accountable senior decision making body, is the right way to do things. But the tradition of such votes is that lists of who voted which way are not published – which means that when it comes to voting for members of the Federal Executive, the voters do not know some basic pieces of information about how the incumbents re-standing have acted whilst in office. However if, in the interests of transparency, any Federal Executive members wish to say which way they voted, by all means post a comment…

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This entry was posted in News, Party policy and internal matters and Selection news.


  • So the Lib Dems in parliament get the bill passed which doesn’t use first part the post for an election, gets the date moved to avoid damaging council elections and a deposit to stand of £5000 to deter fringe parties standing, then decides it isn’t a contest for us!

    Anyway how can we trust an independent who we don’t know and who hasn’t been through an approval process to show us they believe in our values, haven’t got skeletons in their closet and they are not a nutter on a power trip?

  • Cheltenham Robin 27th Oct '11 - 9:21pm

    If we’re looking for independent candidates maybe Mike Hancock would do it.

  • Foregone Conclusion 27th Oct '11 - 11:00pm

    What if these wonderfully liberal-minded independents don’t materialise? Who do I vote for then?

  • This decision is not about whether we should or shouldn’t stand candidates – just that they won’t be supported with Federal party money. Of course the fact that the Federal party has now decided there is a national election they want nothing to do with (the first time I’m aware this has happened) then people might think there are better parts of the party to donate money to than the Federal party.

    “But the tradition of such votes is that lists of who voted which way are not published”

    Which is a stupid tradition – there should at least be the possibility for a recorded vote.

  • Adam Corlett 28th Oct '11 - 12:17am

    Surely there will need to be some kind of cooperation and consensus between different local parties so they’re not competing with each other.

    I wonder if there will be any candidates backed by more than one party. That would be nice to see!

    But I do agree that these elections would not be a good way to spend the party’s money.

  • patrick murray 28th Oct '11 - 7:38am

    firstly hywel, no regional party has 5k to spend on this – the reason they have taken this decision is to stop any liberal democrat from taking part.

    but this decision shows everything that is wrong with our campaigning in my view – we refuse to campaign on anything we believe in that people might not like – the eu, immigration, liberal approach to crime. the result? nobody hears a liberal argument, the debate is dominated by the right and we still lose out because when it is pointed out that we are not raving right wing populist nutters no groundwork has been done to actually have a debate and put forward our point of view.

    i joined the party to make a difference and because i wanted to live in a more liberal country. frankly we have passed up yet another golden opportunity to try to rebalance the debate on crime, community safety and criminal justice. this is very disappointing.

  • I can’t imagine what the Tory leadership think they will get out of this policy, though their grass roots probably model their aspirations on “Hot Fuzz”.

  • Iain Sharpe 28th Oct '11 - 9:35am

    I suspect that this is driven simply by the state of the federal party’s finances and the desire to save money, but it is dishonourable, tactically inept and just plain wrong.

    Having agreed as part of the coalition agreement to support elected police commissioners, the party has a duty to ensure that there are candidates that Lib Dems voters can support – preferably actual Lib Dem candidates. What guarantee is there that liberal-minded independents will come forward.

    Are we really saying that as a national party we are happy to let control of policing pass to our authoritarian opponents, whether in Labour or Conservative parties, maverick independents or worse still, UKIP etc.?

    It is also passing the buck to local activists, who were by and large against this measure, who will have to raise the money to contest these positions or see the party face national humiliation by failing to contest these elections seriously, or indeed at all.

  • “I suspect that this is driven simply by the state of the federal party’s finances and the desire to save money, but it is dishonourable, tactically inept and just plain wrong.”

    I don’t see why that is the case. The FFAC report to conference says:
    “Allowing for these items (office move, campaign management system and Methuen funds) it is expected that there will be a surplus for the year of approx. £325,000 reducing the accumulated deficit to around £550,000.”

    Furthermore the draft budget for 2012 presented to Conference shows a surplus of £117,000. That was produced before this decision was taken but when it was known that Police Commissioner elections were taking place in 2012.

    Nothing in the FFAC report suggests that the finances were so weak that spending on election campaigns needed to be curtailed – if that was the case I would have thought that should be reported to conference!

  • Mark Smulian 28th Oct '11 - 10:52am

    Utter idiocy on the part of the FE (and not for the first time).
    Who on earth do they think is likely to be an independent who is well-known across constituencies of the size to be used, and also competent to do the job?
    How do they think the party can avoid being embarrassed by the subsequent actions of someone it has endorsed but over whom it has no control?
    The same argument could have been used to duck fighting the pre-list system European Parliament elections, the London mayoralty and (I guess) most general election seats into the 1960s – that it was too expensive, a bit of a bore, the size of most constituencies were too large to campaign in, and we probably wouldn’t win so why bother?

  • patrick murray 28th Oct '11 - 2:45pm

    so how are local parties going to find the £5k to fund it the deposits then james? lets be honest about what this is – it is the national party saying we don’t want to run candidates.

  • Well, just to give a different view, I think this is quite sensible. It seems clear that we could run a candidate if a local area wanted to run one but they don’t have to if they think there is an independent who would be better.

    Also, to people above, I think there is a fundamental difference between these positions and elected representatives on councils or parliament. Essentially, this is a role of democratic oversight rather than policy-making and so there is no good reason at all why the candidates should be from political parties. (Of course, this means that the whole policy is misconceived and a better solution would be to leave it to the existing police authorities who knew what they were doing but having been saddled with it, I don’t feel any need that we should participate).

  • The local area being talked about is the police authority area. With each area needing a deposit of £5000 that is going to mean a lot of discussion for the LPs and the regions concerned. This is where the lack of Federal funding is so important. Without it, there will be some areas that will not have the resources to fund a campaign, never mind the deposit or the selection process.

  • “It is too simplistic to argue that we should just commit ourselves to writing a blank cheque for next November and hoping for the best.”

    No-one is arguing that, the FE has never handed over blank cheques for election campaigns and it’s a silly point to suggest. However what the FE have done is significantly undermine our credibility in any police commissioner election.

    The position should be that the FE will support these in the way it supports any other elections – measuring it against the yardstick of “how does this help the party win more seats and influence”? Are we seriously suggesting that the Devon & Cornwall commissioner election wouldn’t be an important staging post for held and target seats in that region?

  • This is a genuine query, what happens if other Parties put up Candidates & particular contests develop along Labour vs Tory lines. Is anyone aware of the thinking in the other Major Parties on this ?

  • ALDC election article in Lib Dem News says it’s in the constitution that we have to contest these police elections. Obviously nobody has mentioned the FE decision and the president’s letter to them

  • “ALDC election article in Lib Dem News says it’s in the constitution that we have to contest these police elections. Obviously nobody has mentioned the FE decision and the president’s letter to them”

    A) There is no such provision
    (It actually says “The Executive Committee shall seek to ensure that, so far as practicable, all seats within the Constituency on Principal Local Authorities are contested by members of the Party, unless the Executive Committee is satisfied that it is in the best interests of the Party in any case not to do so.” so does not mention police authorities)

    B) There is no decision made here about standing candidates. My initial thought was that this was unconstitutional and needed referring to the Federal Appeals Panel. However I can’t find any provision in the constitution that is breached. The decision to stand or not to stand rests with the local party/ies and that is where it still rests following this decision.

    It’s a dubious decision in principle and boneheaded in its announcement however unconstitutional it is not (IMHO at least).

  • Ray Hassall 29th Oct '11 - 9:28am

    Are we ready to support commissioners financially I would not – what good would they really serve or is this a case of jobs for the boys or the ones who can get the funds. Comments that we should support independants – but what do we know about them. I suspect a lot of people will support someone they know and who has a track record to show. I do not agree so will not be spending any of my money or doing any campaigning.

  • @Hywel – you are correct for local party constitutions but these are sub-regional elections so you need to look at the constitution of the English Party, the key phrase is ” to secure the election of Members of … other elected public authorities”

    ARTICLE 1: Nature and Objects

    1.2 The objects of the Liberal Democrats in England shall be:
    (a) to seek to achieve the objects set forth in the Preamble to the Federal
    Constitution; and
    (b) for that purpose, to secure the election of Members of Parliament and the
    European Parliament from constituencies in England and of members of local
    and other elected public authorities in England

  • I looked at that section. It does not impose a requirement to contest every election. In fact the party did not contest every Parliamentary seat (Speaker’s seat excepted) in 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2005.

  • And actually absolutely nothing in that section says that those people so elected should be party members – or even supporters!

  • Simon is wrong on most other aspects of this – but right about Art 1.2.

    If he wasn’t then the party would have acted ultra vires when if provided support to the the 1992 Martin Bell campaign.

  • Jo Grimond: In bygone days, commanders were taught that when in doubt, they should march their troops towards the sound of gunfire. I intend to march my troops towards the sound of gunfire.

    Federal Executive: In bygone days, we had a strong and principled position on policing, distinct from the other parties and consistent with our aim to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We intend to run away!

    We are a campaigning party or we are nothing. This is not first-past-the-post and deposits are only lost if we have no credible candidate and fail to campaign, so we should be prepared to put our money where our mouth is!

  • So the party could be in the position of funding an independent standing against a Lib-Dem candidate?

    If a member decided to do this in any other election they would probably be expelled from the party.

    Utter madness.

  • John Wrexham 11th Dec '11 - 2:45pm

    What’s the point of a political party that doesn’t stand in elections? I thought the Lib Dems joining the Conservatives in a coalition was proof that they no longer wished to just be a pressure group, but actually want to take hold of the levers of power and effect real change. Seems like I was wrong… Surely there are enough liberals out there for you to save your deposits. Aren’t there???

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