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Below is a an LGiU member briefing on Police and Crime Commissioners. It is available to all members and non-members of the LGiU. Members can access the PDF version here.
Police and Crime Commissioners will be elected in each police area in England and Wales (except London, which already has the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime) on 15 November. Established by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 the reform is a major plank of coalition policy, aimed at bringing direct democratic accountability to community safety.
The media remains focused on predictions of a low turnout, although the government, while tacitly acknowledging the concerns, has rejected calls for increased publicity for the elections and candidates. The government reshuffle saw Nick Herbert, the minister who piloted the original legislation through Parliament, replaced by Damian Green.
Nick Herbert resigned from the government in the reshuffle. He had been minister for police and criminal justice since the coalition’s formation in 2010. Like much of the reshuffle there has been much commentary about the nature of his departure from the government; a lot of it concentrating on Mr Herbert resigning because he had not been offered a promotion. Some, however, highlighted his record as one of the government’s thinkers, but also his frustration with a tense relationship with Theresa May, and a lack of support from No. 10 for radicalism and doing “close to f all” to help with Police and Crime Commissioners.
Damian Green has been appointed at Mr Herbert’s successor, what impact this will have on Police and Crime Commissioners remains to be seen. Prior to his appointment as police and criminal justice minister he had been minister for immigration, a role he had shadowed since 2005. Until his appointment his most famous interaction with the police was his controversial arrest in 2008 for aiding and abetting misconduct in public office and conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office after receiving leaked documents from a junior Home Office official. One can only speculate whether this had any impact on his view of how politics and the police should mix.
In practice it is unlikely the reshuffle will have any impact on November’s elections, if only because they are so close. What happens afterwards is a different matter. Mr Herbert may well have been the driver behind the expansive leadership role being created for Police and Crime Commissioners through the Ministry of Justice’s various criminal justice consultations; without any statutory backing this ‘mood music’ may not survive.
Mr Green’s few comments since his new appointment have given little indication of what, if any, difference he will make. Certainly his most publicised comments, in a speech to Police and Crime Commissioner candidates, promoting the use of the private sector to achieve savings marked a continuation of coalition government thinking (itself a continuation of the previous government’s use of the private sector).
With the close of nominations only a few weeks away the candidates position is starting to firm up, with the Liberal Democrats, in particular, selecting a number of candidates across the country. Recent weeks have also seen a number of independent candidates withdrawing.
At the time of writing only Labour (as they have all summer, with a few changes) have candidates in place in each force area, while the Conservatives have just South Yorkshire left without a candidate.
In total there are 183 people still in the race for the 41 Police and Crime Commissioner offices.
Liberal Democrats 20
English Democrats 6
British Freedom Party 1
Green Party 1
Justice and Anti-Corruption Party 1
Monster Raving Loony Party 1
The bar on candidates with convictions that would, as an adult, attract a prison sentence continues to claim victims. Since the LGIU’s last briefing, two more candidates have pulled out of the elections.
The first was Mike Quiqley, the Conservative candidate in Nottinghamshire who resigned revealing he had been fined for criminal damage after breaking a window while drunk on his 21st birthday. He was followed by Phil Dilks, the Labour candidate in Lincolnshire, who was fined for handling stolen goods when he was 16.
That four selected candidates have had to stand down raises several questions. First might be to question the selection processes of the Conservative and Labour parties, it is hard to imagine any other election in which nearly five per cent of their candidates were disqualified from office (as discussed in the last briefing, the Act is clear on this subject). However, one might also ask whether the government could, and should, have done more to clarify the law, or had even misled potential candidates.
The Top of the Cops blog discovered that Home Secretary Theresa May had met with Simon Weston just days before he launched his campaign to be PCC for South Wales, despite being disqualified because of a juvenile conviction, and the blog speculates that the matter of disqualification may have been a subject for discussion. Some months later Ms May stated publicly that the legislation was not aimed at barring someone with a conviction at age 16. This is despite Nick Herbert saying in the bill’s committee stage that “The provision will apply to any youth offences … we are consciously applying a much higher test to police and crime commissioners in a way that is not done for a person in any other elected office.”
It also raises the prospect that there remain some candidates who are barred from office; perhaps even now not considering their youthful run-in with the police to be relevant, or possibly deliberately keeping quiet. It is entirely possible Phil Dilks will not be the last to fall foul of s66.
By far the largest ‘group’ of new candidates have come from the Liberal Democrats. The federal party’s decision to consider Police and Crime Commissioners as local elections and apparent preference that Liberal Democrats back independent candidates has clearly had an impact on their selections. Only a handful of candidates were formally in place before summer, meaning other candidates, from other parties and independents have had several months head-start over any potential Liberal Democrat rival (although in some areas their selection process has been an endorsement of a single candidate, rather than a contested selection). Even now, their candidate slate is incomplete, and while some areas will opt not to contest the election there are still some to complete their selection process.
The picture from other parties is also becoming clearer. UKIP are the fourth party in the elections, with nine candidates. The English Democrats are the only other group who are currently contesting more than one police area.
However, independents are by far the biggest group in the election, reflecting a common opinion that politics should be kept out of policing. Currently 63 people are intending to put themselves forward as independent candidates (across 32 of the police areas). There are certainly a diverse group of candidates, from those with a strong background in policing and criminal justice (including police authority service) to those who might give the impression that their candidature owes more to a bet or fit of ego than a serious belief in their ability to undertake the role.
What is certain is that the 63 will be a lot lower by the time nominations close. Many have already withdrawn from the race, citing a variety of reasons, however, a recurrent theme is the inability of an independent to contend a race without the resources of a party machine. For some, the process of nomination was too high a hurdle; while getting 100 signatures on nomination papers may be straightforward enough, funding a £5,000 deposit that may not be returned is a different matter (while the Conservatives are expecting candidates to cover their own deposits, they would presumably be doing so with some confidence of having it returned even in their worst areas).
However, even those that secure nomination face the daunting challenge of trying to gain recognition in huge constituencies without even the prospect of a free election communication or even a free delivery. If anything it is remarkable not that several are withdrawing from the election race, but that so many still remain.
With elections to be held on 15 November there is the usual countdown of key dates.
8 October: Notice of election will be published
19 October: Close of nominations
23 October: Publication of nominations
15 November: Election day
22 November: PCCs take office
The number of candidates who have withdrawn because of prior criminal convictions illustrate that the eligibility criteria for Police and Crime Commissioners is somewhat more complex than other elections.
Many of the criteria are commonplace in UK elections; candidates should be over 18 and a British, Irish, EU or Commonwealth citizen. They are disqualified if employed by the police or a council within the police area or are a civil servant, hold judicial office or are a member of the armed forces.
Several are specific to the role of Police and Crime Commissioners. Most infamously is the restriction that candidates cannot have been convicted of an imprisonable offence (regardless of the sentence delivered in their case). Additionally, candidates cannot stand in more than one police area and cannot be members of staff of existing police authorities or, in the future, a Police and Crime Commissioner anywhere in the country.
Members of Parliament, or any of the national assemblies (including Northern Ireland and Scotland, even though they are not electing Police and Crime Commissioners) can stand as candidates, but would have to resign their seats before taking office. Conversely, should a Police and Crime Commissioner be elected to Parliament or a national assembly they would be automatically disqualified from holding office as a Police and Crime Commissioner.
The formal nomination requires the signatures of 100 local government electors from the police force area and a £5,000 deposit, otherwise the nomination process is similar to that of other elections. The deposit is returned to candidates who receive at least five per cent of first preference votes in the election.
Most take for granted that elections in this country run smoothly; overlooking the hard work, professionalism and planning of the officers involved. This last element has been particularly difficult.
Like a national election the Police and Crime Commissioner elections will be administered by local government, but central government will foot the bill. However, the fees and charges order, detailing what would be covered and how much would be paid, was not published by the Home Office until 10 September – a mere two months before the election – when it would ordinarily have been expected around six months before the election.
While there is arguably a degree of predictability within the order, based on previous experience of running elections, the delayed publication has hindered the ability of returning officers to plan with certainty for a new type of election.
The elections will undoubtedly present challenges for returning officers, aside from the need to co-ordinate (which does happen, with different constituencies, for European elections) they are faced with an uncertain turnout and, for virtually all, an electoral system they have not previously had to administer. All this will happen against a backdrop of local government endeavouring to avoid spending unnecessarily; it is not hard to imagine returning officers fearful of planning a gold-plated election only to discover they would be reimbursed for a tin-plated service. Some councils have already expressed concern that the funding (largely based on costs from the 2009 European elections) will be insufficient for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
Turnout has been the consistent topic of police and crime commissioner election coverage. Most recently the Electoral Reform Society and 20 Police and Crime Commissioner candidates marked 50 days until the election with an open letter to the Home Secretary expressing the fear a low turnout will mean that successful candidates will not have a mandate and a risk that extremist candidates may be elected. The letter calls for a publicity campaign which includes candidate information, and for the government to rule out holding a winter election again.
The Electoral Reform Society’s 18.5% turnout prediction rapidly became a quotable figure despite some questions about its validity. Regardless of the methodology, fears of a low turnout prevail with Damian Green, for example stating he has the “job to engage the public with the policy of PCCs … in order to persuade people to get out and vote.”
With polling day drawing closer, concerns about turnout remain the headline issue. The government has remained unmoved by these concerns, and while Damian Green sees it as his job to persuade people to vote, he has yet to mention any additional funding for publicity. Given the time remaining until the election even if the government had a change of heart it’s unlikely to result in positive action.
The Electoral Reform Society’s projection of an 18.5% turnout has driven much of the low turnout narrative, but the projection is based on several assumptions that may prove wrong: as a device to drive debate it was undoubtedly successful, as an accurate projection its value is more questionable.
Curiously it seems that a low turnout has become an accepted truth and the debate has moved on to reflect the national psyche and focus purely on the weather (admittedly, with dark nights and a bit about central government publicity thrown in).
But these arguments are possibly a diversion. Most people do not put their life on hold because it’s a bit colder and the nights have drawn in, so why is there the expectation that few people will take a few minutes to exercise their democratic rights in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections? Especially when postal voting is becoming increasing widespread and crime and community safety issues regularly appear towards to the top of people’s list of concerns.
The answer might simply be that people do not, yet, see any value in voting. Something that’s unlikely to change while the main discussion is about how many people vote rather than the difference their vote might make. There are some signs that the discussion is beginning to move on and starting to consider what the impact of the first Police and Crime Commissioners will be, a process that may well help raise awareness and, therefore, turnout.
The LGIU will be publishing a regular update to members on the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. If you have any feedback on the content of the this update, or suggestions of what you would like to see in subsequent updates, please contact Janet Sillett, Briefings Manager, at email@example.com
This briefing was written by James Cousins, LGiU Associate.