Opinion: The Lib Dem leadership’s attitude to the Police Commissioner elections is baffling!

“Liberal Democrats – soft on crime” was the headline that has often screamed off Labour leaflets over the last decade. Indeed, in the latter stages of the 2010 General Election, Labour strategists used that message to squeeze the Liberal Democrat vote when we were on 29%.

Looking at the partial, last-minute collapse in our vote, it’s difficult to argue that this line of attack didn’t work. The ‘soft on crime’ attack was used against us in the Oldham East and Saddleworth By-election. Labour’s Christmas Card to constituents in Oldham even featured a snowman with a police hat on to illustrate their campaign. We did not effectively counter the police cuts message that Labour used as a major part of their campaign.

Tony Blair was quite correct when he identified “crime and the fear of crime” as a key issue before New Labour’s 1997 landslide. Being tough on crime, or to be seen to be tough on crime, is a message that wins votes.

Now, we all know Labour’s record on crime in 13 years of Government was lamentable. Coppers became pen-pushers as bureaucracy hit at all time high. During 13 years of a Labour Government, 3,600 new offences were created and a record number of people were incarcerated. It sounds good so far… Unfortunately, their record on rehabilitation was criminal. Under Labour, re-offending rates were a staggering 67% within two years of release from prison. Labour comprehensively failed to rehabilitate, instead turning our prisons into ‘crime schools.’

Now, Police Authorities across the country are suffering like many other organisations in times of austerity. I’d argue though that cuts in the policing budget are cuts too far. That said, the culture of waste in the police is similar to many other parts of the public sector. Take Greater Manchester Police for example. This Labour-run Police Authority have just spent £64m on a new HQ. They have wasted £100,000 on two pieces of artwork and spent £8,000 on importing trees from Italy to spruce up their HQ reception. At the same time, they are axing front desks at dozens of Police Stations across Greater Manchester. This is typical of Labour-run outside bodies in this country.

November sees elections for the first ever Police Commissioners. It should be a key opportunity to tell people that we are a party which has the answers to deal with high crime rates and an unacceptable re-offending rate. Especially attractive is the Lib Dem policy that will see short-term prison sentences slashed and replaced with tougher community sentences. It is a fact that tougher community sentences drastically reduces repeat offending. Labour were on the right lines in government but like so much of their rhetoric simply did not follow it through.

The Lib Dem Federal Executive’s rather lazy attitude to these elections — deciding not to provide any financial backing to Lib Dems wishing to stand for election, and instead back suitable independent candidates — is simply baffling.

Yes, we may not have a huge amount of money sloshing through our party finances. What we do have though is the ability to fight and win on much-limited resources. I don’t want to sleepwalk into having someone like Hazel Blears in charge of all law and order issues in Greater Manchester.

Make no mistake, by failing to take these elections seriously, we are abdicating the right to be taken seriously on law and order issues. We are playing into the hands of Labour’s message that we are ‘soft on crime.’

The decision is all the more baffling when you consider that it was Nick Clegg who was widely credited with moving the elections to November to take ‘politics’ out of it. Politics is the inevitable conclusion of what we signed up for in the Coalition Agreement. What we are effectively doing is handing over any influence to our political opponents. Do you think that the Labour and Conservative Parties will come to the same conclusion as our Federal Executive?

I appreciate that the next few months will be hugely significant for our party. The London Mayoral election will soon be upon us. Ironically, we have an excellent candidate in Brian Paddick — himself an ex-copper. ‘Law and order’ will be on the menu for a significant part of the run-up to it. We as a party will be very well served by Brian as he will use his experience at the sharp end of policing to boost our campaign.

I am sure that our party has many ex-police officers who would be ideally suited to be effective Police Commissioners. Our party is basically cutting the rug from under their feet. Image the uproar if the Federal Executive turned round and pulled any resources to the London Mayoral Campaign.

I would ask the Federal Executive to look again at this decision and I would encourage potential Lib Dem candidates to go for it!

* Dave Hennigan is a Lib Dem member in Macclesfield.

Read more by or more about , , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

30 Comments

  • Excellent piece David. I can’t understand how the FE has ended up making a decision to fund independent candidates standing against Lib-Dems.

    If a member decided to do this in any other election, they would probably be expelled. Utter madness – I hope the FE thinks again.

  • Why do you assume waste only occurs in public sector it wasnt the public sector that crashed the economy .Anyone working in private sector can find many examples of waste and dodgy deals.The secret is to audit and audit again if you think electing police commissionerswill help think of MPs and their expenses

  • James Gurling 15th Nov '11 - 5:44pm

    Just to reassure Lev – the FE did not decide to fund or back Independents against candidates of its own Party!

  • We should be saying its a waste of time and resource – the politicisation of the police is not something we should be seen to support (even if I would prefer a level headed liberal to a foaming at the mouth populist), standing would give that message…

  • James Blanchard 15th Nov '11 - 6:13pm

    Completely agree with your article David. The party is shooting itself in the foot if this decision stands.

    I don’t hold out much hope for a change of heart though – I was at the discussion/consultation on this at Federal Conference, the idea of not standing was met with universal and strong condemnation by the audience, only for our opinions to be dismissed as ‘what you might expect from a room full of people who would come to this meeting’.

  • Tony Dawson 15th Nov '11 - 8:46pm

    “What we are effectively doing is handing over any influence to our political opponents.”

    This rather presupposes that these narcissists will have any influence at all. Personally, i believe that other than boring the pants off the Chief Constable for three or four hours per week and filling their own pockets with public money, they will achieve nothing. To agree to these elections in the Coalition agreement was a scandalous concession to the money-wasting tendency among the Tories. None of them heard the word ‘deficit’?

  • Dave Hennigan says ‘Yes, we may not have a huge amount of money sloshing through our party finances. What we do have though is the ability to fight and win on much-limited resources. ‘ Get the message Dave – Out in the sticks we don’t have ‘much-limited resources’ to fight in these unwanted Police Commissioner elections we have no money at all! With a deposit of £5000 and no Freepost to reach 1,000,000 electors in a typical county we couldn’t even afford to print the election address! We are good at maximising resources but we need some resources to maximise! I write as a Local Party Agent who has to live in the real world. Dave makes a good case for getting our voice heard but until the issue of cost is addressed by enthusuiasts for fighting them it’s all academic.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Nov '11 - 11:44am

    There are good reasons why some posts are kept at a little distance from direct democracy. We recognised this when we made a big thing about our support for an independent rather than directly government controlled Bank of England. If elected Police Commissioners why not an elected Governor of the Bank of England? I mean this, it is not a rhetorical question, anyone who argues for directly elected Police Commissioners is, in my opinion, a hypocrite if they don’t also argue for a directly elected Governor of the Bank of England, or at least put up a very strong case as to why the principle of direct election should apply to one but not the other.

    I do believe there should be some democratic input into the police, but most certainly not through directly elected police commissioners. It is absolutely fundamental to the fair exercising of police power that this role is kept at arms-length from direct democracy, even of the form where it is controlled by an elected assembly, let alone the dubious (original word changed to see if that lets this message get through – what I posted first is now “awaiting moderation”) idea of one directly elected person.

    We should NOT support candidates for these roles and make it clear it is because we fundamentally disagree. Mostly I don’t agree with the idea of electoral boycotts, but here I think the very idea of this post is so fundamentally against our principles that we must just refuse to have any involvement with them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Nov '11 - 11:46am

    There are good reasons why some posts are kept at a little distance from direct democracy. We recognised this when we made a big thing about our support for an independent rather than directly government controlled Bank of England. If elected Police Commissioners why not an elected Governor of the Bank of England?

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Nov '11 - 11:46am

    I do believe there should be some democratic input into the police, but most certainly not through directly elected police commissioners. It is absolutely fundamental to the fair exercising of police power that this role is kept at arms-length from direct democracy, even of the form where it is controlled by an elected assembly, let alone the dubious idea of one directly elected person.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Nov '11 - 11:47am

    We should NOT support candidates for these roles and make it clear it is because we fundamentally disagree. Mostly I don’t agree with the idea of electoral boycotts, but here I think the very idea of this post is so fundamentally against our principles that we must just refuse to have any involvement with them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Nov '11 - 11:51am

    There is a reason I posted three separate paragraphs as separate messages, but I am not allowed to say why.

  • @Leekliberal I have been told there will be a freepost. However we don’t yet know if it will be a page in a booklet containing all the candidates or the same rules as the general/euro elections.

  • The trouble is with discussing certain things like this on a public forum is that occasionally people feel like they are just chatting with Lib Dems in a pub and say things which are inappropriate. You are chatting in a pub with millions of people, not all of them friendly, listening in avidly.

  • Matthew – why do you support us standing in the London Mayoral election then?

    And is it so fundamentally against our principles. There has been political control of policing since – well forever. Police committees were originally composed primarily of local councillors and we campaigned against changes to police committees to reduce the influence of elected members. Aren’t things like a commitment to neighbourhood policing or prioritising resources to improve rape conviction rates, well, political decisions?

  • Tony Dawson 16th Nov '11 - 6:39pm

    @stephen williams:

    “what on earth is the point of 12 new city mayors, who will have no power to cut crime in their cities?”

    It’s even worse than that, they don’t even know if this daft proposal is for cities or for ‘city regions’. Classic back-of-an-envelope populist nonsense.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Nov '11 - 9:28pm

    Hywel

    Matthew – why do you support us standing in the London Mayoral election then?

    I wasn’t particularly happy about it, had there been a move to boycott mayoral elections I would have supported it.

    And is it so fundamentally against our principles. There has been political control of policing since – well forever. Police committees were originally composed primarily of local councillors

    There is a fundamental difference between power held collegially and power in the hands of one person. Plus, police committees had more of an advisory role, they did not have the direct control that a commissioner has.

  • “There is a fundamental difference between power held collegially and power in the hands of one person. Plus, police committees had more of an advisory role, they did not have the direct control that a commissioner has.”

    We still contest elections when they are about putting the powers of collegiate body into the hands of one person (ie Mayoral elections). The argument is that these politicise policing. Do PCCs have any powers that either police authorities or the Secretary of State don’t currently have?

    It’s worth noting that the Explanatory Notes to the act state, “Subsections (5) to (7) set out the core functions of police and crime commissioners, which are to secure the maintenance of an efficient and effective police force, and to hold the chief constable to account for the exercise of his functions. These are the functions previously carried out by police authorities.” (though there are other functions in subsection 8)

  • Stuart Mitchell 17th Nov '11 - 8:06am

    “Now, we all know Labour’s record on crime in 13 years of Government was lamentable.”

    Do we? Didn’t the British Crime Survey show massive drops in just about every category of crime between 1997 and 2010?

    “Unfortunately, their record on rehabilitation was criminal.”

    Actually the Ministry of Justice’s detailed figures (which go back to 2000) show reoffending rates falling significantly between then and 2009.

    So Labour, whether you care to admit it or not, actually gave us less crime, and less recidivism.

    Eighteen months of Lib Dems in power has already given us the largest prison population in history and the most shocking outbreak of mass criminality in living memory. I expect reoffending rates to rise as well given the data we’ve already seen from the August riots. I owuld suggest ou have a long, long way to go before you can claim to having the answers on law and order.

    “The decision is all the more baffling when you consider that it was Nick Clegg who was widely credited with moving the elections to November to take ‘politics’ out of it.”

    Clegg spent 25m of public money movig the electons purely to improve the Lib Dems’ electoral prospects. This is the first time I have seen anybody suggest he deserves “credit” for this!

    The really baffling thing about this article is that it’s supposed to be about police commissioners but ends up being all about sentencing and reoffending, two things which have little to do with police commissioners.

  • Mick Taylor 17th Nov '11 - 9:18am

    Dave Hennigan is absolutely right.

    We have a strong message on law and order and the FE is simply abdicating its responsibility to make sure the party puts it across.

    Are we seriously going to let Labour and/or Conservative candidates in without giving them a fight? Worse still are we going to give the BNP and UKIP or a whole series of balmy independents free reign without challenge?

    I hope that the regional parties tell the FE just what to do with the crackpot decision!

  • Nick O'Shea 17th Nov '11 - 9:32am

    I fail to understand what the party hopesto acheive with the no-show for elections to the Polcie & Crime Commissioners’ posts next November. Giving ‘independents’ (ie, in the south east at least, Tories by another name) a clear run not only leaves them more entrenched than ever, but denies us and the electorate an opportunity to have a real debate about crime reduction and prevention, how to rehabilitiate offenders and how to keep young people in particualr away from becoming petty criminals. Without Liberal Democrat voices in this debate, it will become a platform for the hanging and flogging brigade, with UKIP and the BNP providing accompaniment. How many times have ALDC and others said the way to beat these odious people is to fight them – not a stand aside and leave it to the Tories, Labour, and evern worse – so called ‘independents’.
    I am dismayed that the party seems to be erecting all sorts of barriers to stop proper Liberal Democrat candidates. If they did not want this to become “policital” tghey should not have ditched the passably reasonable system we have at the moment in favour of elections. What is a political party for if not to fight elections on its policies and principles in an attempt to elect people who will impliment our policies?

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Nov '11 - 10:00am

    Hywel

    We still contest elections when they are about putting the powers of collegiate body into the hands of one person (ie Mayoral elections).

    I think we should have made a very strong stand against that idea, which could perhaps have included boycotting mayoral elections. It is appalling the way the great and good have put forward this ideas as “devolving power” when all it means is that power which used to be held by a representative assembly is instead put solely into the hands of one person. The arguments used for this idea, that somehow it is more dynamic or modern or gets things going, or whatever – well, they were used for the same idea in various European countries in the 19290s and 1930s, “get the trans running on time etc”. Yes, that was what was the big idea back then, scrapping representative democracy and putting all power into the hands of one charismatic individual. Anyone who is a decent deep-down liberal ought to have been able to see this and so seen how dangerous this mania for directly elected executive mayors is, because it is the start of something very, very nasty and against what is fundamental to liberalism.

    The argument is that these politicise policing. Do PCCs have any powers that either police authorities or the Secretary of State don’t currently have?

    The Secretary of State is responsible to the assembly – Parliament – and ultimately can be forced to stand down by the assembly. So this is not the same as a directly elected official. PCCs are also an assembly. When it’s a specific task rather than a general task, direct election of one person is just not the liberal way to do it. The liberal way to do it is to have an appointed official who is a specialist in the task doing it directly, not a generalist politician with a party label, with the democratic oversight provided by a general assembly, responsible for many things not just that one and elected to be representative of the whole population, ultimately in control.

  • Tony Dawson 17th Nov '11 - 1:54pm

    @mick taylor:

    “I hope that the regional parties tell the FE just what to do with the crackpot decision!”

    This would enable the constituencies to tell the Regional Parities what to do! 🙂

    @Hywel:

    ““Subsections (5) to (7) set out the core functions of police and crime commissioners, which are to secure the maintenance of an efficient and effective police force, and to hold the chief constable to account for the exercise of his functions.”

    Who wrote that meaningless drivel? A Chief Constable an carry on doing his/her duty equally well with or without a highly paid person, depriving them of three or four police constables’ worth of salary, considering that as their ‘brief’.

  • Matthew those are reasonable points against the idea of executive power being vested in one person. And I agree with you (indeed when working for ALDC I produced artwork packs for people campaigning for No votes in Mayoral referenda which I suspect you might have used in Lewisham).

    That is a good reason for opposing having PCCs at all – which we do.

    However that wasn’t really my point/question. It was about standing candidates. The argument is that PCCs politicise policing and this is something we shouldn’t do. For that argument to hold then PCCs must be given powers which don’t currently reside with political bodies. My argument is that this is a move of the political/democratic control of the police from the police authority committee (and Secretary of State) to a PCC. That isn’t politicising policing it is the moving of the political element of policing to a different person – and the explanatory notes to the act do seem to support this to some degree.

    My question is – what political powers will PCCs have that weren’t previously exerised “politically” – ie by the police authority or Secretary of State.

  • Stuart Mitchell.. Posted 17th November 2011 at 8:06 am

    I agree entirely. Sadly the LibDem ‘rump’ seems to spend more effort in repeating the Tory, “Since 1997 the country has gone to the dogs”, mantra instead of holding onto its core values; the values that made it the ONLY party with a soul.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Nov '11 - 11:09pm

    Hywel

    indeed when working for ALDC I produced artwork packs for people campaigning for No votes in Mayoral referenda which I suspect you might have used in Lewisham

    I don’t think we did. The Labour leadership in LB Lewisham was pushing for the mayor system even before it became legal, and did what it could do introduce it informally several years before the legislation was passed to allow true “one man one vote” at local government level (that man being the mayor). When we were fighting it in Lewisham we were on our own, it was before the push for this sytem became more widespread and campaign material against started to be developed. It did NOT help that while we were fighting it, a pamphlet in favour of elected mayors written by a recently elected LibDem MP was pubished by CentreForum. That LibDem MP hadn’t bothered to ask his party colleagues in LB Lewisham about what was really happening there, but instead believed and regurgitated New Labour’s propaganda in favour of the system. Fortunately, no-one in New Labour in Lewisham picked up on that pamphlet, otherwise it could have seriously damaged us. The mayor system got through in the referendum, helped by the appallingly biased but supposedly “neutral” explanatory material produced and distributed by the council. But the nubers of people who approached me later, after it was in place and said “NOW I realise what you were on about, if only I’d known at the time, I would have voted No”.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDavid-1 19th Aug - 4:03am
    @Mack: A coalition government in which multiple parties are represented is neither "corrupt" nor oligarchic; it is, rather, representative, and provides a more accurate representation...
  • User AvatarGeoffrey Dron 19th Aug - 3:51am
    Rather than a GNU, maybe cooperation with the Gaukeward Squad will produce better results. A key focus for the Remainer Tory MPs is how to...
  • User AvatarDavid-1 19th Aug - 3:50am
    Also, @matt: Let's suppose that you and your friends on the far right who "passionately believe in Brexit" achieve your desired result. You can hardly...
  • User AvatarDavid-1 19th Aug - 3:36am
    Jeremy Corbyn may or may not have a chance at becoming Prime Minister by winning a GE. (Though there have been any number of highly...
  • User AvatarThomas 19th Aug - 2:02am
    nvelope2003 - DoFo is Doug Ford, premier of Ontario. He has been single-handedly helping the Liberals regain their lead in Ontario by his slash-and-burn policies,...
  • User AvatarOnceALibDem 19th Aug - 12:59am
    "The EU Withdrawal act is clear repeal happens on ‘exit day’ not any specific date." Only partly correct. The act defines 'exit day' as a...
Sat 24th Aug 2019
Thu 29th Aug 2019
Mon 9th Sep 2019