Opinion: Police Commissioner elections – the Lib Dem candidate won’t spy on you

As a campaigner with a strong interest in the European Elections, I am really happy to see a number of counties moving towards selection of a Liberal Democrat candidate for the Police Commissioner elections in November.

This is because in the European Elections an important message for Liberal Democrats is that we are effective on crime. Crime crosses state borders within Europe. We need co-operation and integration to ensure that our police’s powers to bring criminals to justice, the rule of law, and important civil liberties cross borders too. The other parties won’t make the commitment that we will to tackle cross border crime.

Standing a Liberal Democrat candidate in November is a chance to publicise our strong policies on crime – that it is not about being tough or soft but about being effective. Getting this message across in November will help us get it across in 2014 and 2015.

Being effective on crime was the key message in the brilliant policy paper “We Can Cut Crime” produced when Nick Clegg was Home Affairs spokesman in 2007. The paper needs updating and the Federal Policy Committee should make this priority work in good time before November.

Public focus on police powers of surveillance raises a clear opportunity for Liberal Democrat candidates for Police Commissioner to distinguish themselves against the Tory and Labour candidates who come from more authoritarian political traditions.

Lib Dem candidates should say loudly and clearly,

“I’m the candidate who will make sure, as you Commissioner, that you are not spied upon.”

That is because whatever an Act of Parliament says a police officer can do, it is another matter as to whether a police choose to use that power. Police have many powers that officers decide they don’t need to use in any given case. This professional discretion is very important.

A liberal candidate for Commissioner can properly say,

“I am against people’s emails being read without a warrant. If Parliament passes an Act that allows it, my police force will not do it. If we have good reasons to intercept communications we will get a warrant. I will not have local people spied upon as a matter of routine. As a Liberal Democrat, I will protect your privacy better than any of the other candidates.”

* Antony Hook is a Liberal Democrat MEP for South East England and has practised as a barrister since 2003.

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24 Comments

  • Here’s Tom’s paper on policing: http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/docs

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 10th Apr '12 - 6:22pm

    Nathan,

    Yes Tom’s paper is very good and I wrote on LDV when it was published that it will be a useful reseourse for police commissioner candidates.

    I think this link works to Tom’s paper:

    http://issuu.com/tombrakemp/docs/trusted_professional_and_effective?mode=window&viewMode=doublePage

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 10th Apr '12 - 6:33pm

    Ian,

    In your county of Sussex the Liberal Democrats are the clear second party. The election us under Supplementary Vote rather tha First Past The Post so I think the result could be very interesting.

    The person who, in my view, is likely to win the Liberal Democrat nomination in Sussex is a very srong candidate and I am looking forward to canvassing for him.

    I am sorry you regard it as improper to think about building up support in one election to assist in future elections.

    My experience of the electorate is that they like to carry over their impressions of candidates and parties in that way. People seem to find what a party has to say in one election to be useful evidence as to what view they should form of a party’s candidates generally.

    I think that is a reasonable position for the public to take. I also think it is reasonable for political campaigners to bear it in mind as we approach elections, all of which are deeply important.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 10th Apr '12 - 9:42pm

    Sussex remains a clear 2-horse race between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives even after the difficult local elections in 2011.

    I expect that will be confirmed in the 2012 local elections in a few weeks.

  • Ian,
    Sorry but I am a bit confused by your argument. This goes along the lines of “the Lib Dems might not win any contests so they shouldn’t bother standing”. So, if I have understood your logic correctly, your view is that those who are not the clear winners at this stage should not stand. But that rule doesn’t apply to you it seems! Afraid to say the forecasts I have seen don’t exactly look good for Independent candidates, including the Sussex area. I appreciate you have a right to stand, just think it is a shame that you do not want that right to also apply to someone with some good experience standing under the Liberal Democrat banner.
    And in terms of principle, Liberal Democrats have much to be proud of in our community based approach to crime and justice – be it the Community Justice Panels pioneered when Somerset was under Lib Dem control, or the Acceptable Behaviour Contracts pioneered under a Lib Dem administration in Islington – or when the Lib Dem council in Liverpool constructed alleygates across the city, slashing the rate of domestic burglary.

  • >The election us under Supplementary Vote rather tha First Past The Post

    Whose idea was that? Where is the ‘no to AV’ campaign on this issue?!! How will the poor ordinary voters who apparently couldn’t be expected to cope with AV get their heads round SV? !!

    On topic: Ian, you may be a brilliant choice for Sussex, but until all the candidates’ names are in for each force area, (by which time it may well be too late to say “oops, we need to field a candidate”) how will anyone know if there IS a good independent candidate in any given place?

  • http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/feedarticle/10188696

    But a spokesman for Mr Clegg said: “The Deputy Prime Minister agreed at the NSC that the Government would look at proposals to address the police’s technological gap to deal with serious criminals and terrorists. But he also made clear that they could only proceed if they took into account and protected civil liberties.

    “The full details of those proposals have not yet been brought forward by the Home Office. When they are, they must be carefully scrutinised to get the balance between security and liberty exactly right.”

    Mr Clegg has written to the National Security Council to say Lib Dems will not support separate plans to extend powers for civil courts to hear evidence in secret without changes.

  • Ian,
    Personally I would have preferred there to be no directly elected police and crime commissioners at all. But that is what will happen and if there is an election then as a Liberal Democrat I believe the party should be there to represent the Liberal viewpoint on tackling crime. The suggestion you refer to above was never party policy. And I – and many other party members – were always in support of standing a candidate. You could even describe it as a “principled position”….
    In terms of Police and Crime Panels – in fact, the panels should be balanced across the area of the police authority to reflect the different “political” make up of the councillors (“political” with a small “p”). So as I understand it, if there is a suitable number of Independent councillors in an area then there is nothing to stop them from being represented on the Panel.

  • DAVE WARREN 11th Apr '12 - 8:32am

    I believe Thames Valley could be won with a strong candidate.

    Liberal Democrats are the second place in many of the constituencies in this area and in an election using the supplementary vote we can be successful.

  • David Rogers 11th Apr '12 - 8:57am

    Ian, I am sorry to see you have such faith in the principles of your own (self-certified?) independence, and so little in the principles of others…

  • >the choice of the SV was made by the Government so that is the Lib Con coalition.

    My point clearly wasn’t clear (!). It’s the double standards that Conservatives are bringing in SV for these elections when they claimed anything other than FPP is too complex for poor little voters to get their heads round in Westminster elections. Just as Labour gave us the list system in Wales, but made no attempt to ditch FPP for Westminster.

  • Ian,

    Certainly not treating you like a fool, just giving my view on how Police and Crime Panels should work. Please remember it is not only your good self who is entitled to an opinion! Actually the panel should be balanced according to the total political composition of councillors across an area, not just based on the political control of each council in the area. I appreciate it will require vigilance and hard work at a local level to ensure this does actually happen. As a result of Lib Dem pressure, the panels can be as large as 20 people to properly reflect political make up across an area. And your comments on Police and Crime Panels, in my view, show a bit of a misunderstanding about their role – they are more of a scrutiny role, so your earlier comment about Independent PCCs balancing these ghastly party political types isn’t comparing like with like.

  • Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera 14th Apr '12 - 12:22pm

    I personally wish to thank Antony for introducing this vitally important discussion, for along with a few other former members of the police service, I remain concerned about the low level of interest that the introduction of Police & Crime Commissioners has raised amongst Liberal Democrats.

    Policing, is frankly far too an important a issue to be left to the police alone, and this has been a concern since the current model of policing was introduced back in 1829.

    Since the earliest times, Watch Committees, comprising of elected members and JP’s were introduced in the Police Services of England and Wales, and these were replaced by Police Authorities, as a result of the Police Act (1964), which established the tripartite structure of governance that included the Authority, The Home Secretary, and the Chief Constable, that we have known since.

    Membership of the Authority has always been a hotly debated issue, as to some the membership was rather stereotypical, but its saving grace was that due to numbers, it was harder for senior police officers, and or the Home Secretary to completely “fool all of the people all of the time”.

    The responsibility of the Authorities for setting local policing priorities, appointing chief officers, monitoring complaints, setting budgets and consulting with the public, etc, will now be handed over to a single person, the Police & Crime Commissioner. I fear that a solitary person, with such power, and with the few checks placed on them, may be overly influenced by opportunistic chief officers, as well as the ‘armchair’ criminologists that become Home Secretary’s.
    Further to this, the fact that ‘ANYONE’ is deemed as appropriate to possess such power, without any prior criminal justice, public sector or any other measurable relevant knowledge, upstanding, skills, and ability, says a lot about what people really think about policing in the twenty first century, and how they do not see the importance.

    What can we do as Liberal Democrats? I would suggest that firstly, not playing is not an option, for as of November, unless the Government changes its mind, elections will be held. I would suggest that we as a Party need to demonstrate to the public that we do take criminal justice issues seriously. Tom Brake’s paper is a start, and a good one at that, but we need to go further.

    Whether we as a Party support or do not support candidates does not mean that we should not be part of the debate at a local level, for one personal fear that I have is that because policing and other criminal justice matters seems to bring out the ‘hidden Tory’ in many people, the most successful candidates will hail from a Right, and in some cases a far less tolerant Right than any of us would like.

    One very contemporary question that I would pose to any candidate for this role, is how would they build bridges with communities who have never been positively engaged with the service, and are in some cases having their deepest fears corroborated by the current revelations of bigotry that have come forth?

    Sadly, I fear that the level of current responses to this thread may well indicate the level of interest? If this is the case, as Corporal Jones used to say “We’re all doomed Captain Mainwaring, doomed”, and the service will remain out of touch with, and unresponsive to society, that it has always been, but people seem to think is a modern phenomena.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

    English Party Diversity Champion
    [email protected]

  • Paul Elgood 14th Apr '12 - 6:24pm

    Agree with Rob (and the indirect comments of David and Anthony) that we need to see a strong liberal voice in Sussex for Police Commissioner. It isn’t an election we would particularly want, but if it’s happening we need to give residents a choice to be able to vote Lib Dem. There are numerous community safety issues locally that we are the best champions of – for example policing issues for the LGBT community, civil liberties etc. We shouldn’t forget who scrapped ID cards, and this is the best forum to promote this debate now.

  • Richard Dean 1st May '12 - 8:43pm

    Well done Ian! It is crazy not to field candidates everywhere possible. Not fielding would say that LbDems aren’t interested in issues of crime and justice that most voters feel passionately about. That message will carry over to every other election. How can we claim to be defenders of freedoms and rights if we walk away at the first opportunity to defend them?

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