Free LGiU member briefing: Police and Crime Commissioners – November update
Below is 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.
Briefing in full
When nominations closed there were 194 candidates for the 41 Police and Crime Commissioner offices. Subsequently two independent candidates have formally withdrawn and one Labour candidate, while remaining on the ballot paper, is not eligible for election.
Unsurprisingly party candidates make up the majority of those standing for election, although only the Conservatives and Labour parties are fielding a full slate (both the Lib Dems and UKIP tie for third, with 24 candidates apiece).
The totals of candidates for Electoral Commission registered political parties are:
Arguably the Campaign to Stop Politicians Running Policing and Zero Tolerance Policing ex Chief (who are standing in Lincolnshire and Surrey respectively) are independent candidates who have taken the step of registration; both having registered since September this year.
What is surprising are the number of independent candidates that remain in the race. Without the backing of a party machine (and party finance) any election is a hard fight, all the more so when the constituencies are so big. Few will have broad name recognition and it’s hard to imagine many being able to form large campaigns.
However, 55 (57 if you include the two who have registered political parties) have cleared the hurdle of finding a £5,000 deposit and 100 signatures on the nomination form to be validly nominated for election.
The mix of candidates is interesting. There is no doubt that many of the names that were floated as independent candidates before the close of nominations were unlikely to get their names on the ballot paper and were perhaps more interested in some fleeting fame through local media coverage.
However, many independents, both those whose names were merely floated and those in the final race, can point to a track record in policing and criminal justice and – arguably – are viable candidates for office.
It is tempting to look at political history and write off the chances of an independent victory. While there is a rich tradition of independents at local level, independent victories at other elections are the exception rather than the rule; usually related to a significant issue and sometimes with the support of some political parties who cease or reduce their campaigning in that area.
There are, however, some factors that may help independents aspiring to be a police and crime commissioner, for example some areas have a tradition of voting for independents locally that might translate to PCCs, especially when there is a widespread feeling that the role should not be political: Ipsos MORI research for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners showed 30% would vote for a candidate that did not represent a political party A further factor in some areas is the freedom of Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru campaigners to back independents which might bring some much needed campaigning expertise and manpower.
What is difficult to judge is the role the electoral system will play. The elections (where there are more than two candidates) use the supplemental vote system, meaning that if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote on the first round, all but the top two candidates are eliminated and their votes redistributed. While independents are often seen as likely beneficiaries of second preferences, securing a place in the top two of the ballot is a big ask; especially as many face other independent candidates splitting the non-party vote.
The spread of candidates
While every police area will have the choice of a Conservative or Labour candidate, the choices presented after that are varied. For the first time since the resurgence of a third party in UK politics there is an election in which the third party is not fielding candidates nationally. The variety is further enhanced because the spread of independent candidates is far from uniform.
Three areas will have a straight Conservative v Labour fight: Dyfed-Powys, North Yorkshire and Staffordshire. At the other end of the scale is Devon and Cornwall, where voters will have to select from ten candidates, six of whom are independents.
If you are interested in examining more, the YourNextPCC website provides all the candidate data you could possibly want.
Two nominated candidates have formally withdrawn their nominations.
Mervyn Barrett, who had been nominated in Lincolnshire, withdrew his nomination following an exposé by the Daily Telegraph into the background of his campaign team. Mr Barrett subsequently claimed he had “been the victim of a bizarre and hugely embarrassing deception by the person who was acting… as my principal adviser and campaign manager”
Charles Swaby, nominated in Derbyshire, withdrew for the ostensibly straightforward reason that he did not want to split the independent vote.
A more interesting situation exists in Northamptonshire. Lee Barron had been nominated by the Labour Party, despite claiming to have declared an arrest and fine for wilful obstruction in 1990. While there are questions over who knew what and when, it is clear that Mr Barron would be disqualified from office and at the end of October he quit the race, while the Labour Party withdrew their support.
Leaving the issues for the party’s selection process aside (along with the prospect that he still might not be the last victim of the s66 restriction on previous convictions), this leaves the Northamptonshire electors with an interesting ballot paper: Mr Barron’s ineligibility came to light some six days after the deadline for withdrawal from the election and he remains on the ballot paper as a Labour candidate. Should he win, there would have to be a by-election since he is disqualified from being elected. This may be unlikely, notionally Northamptonshire would be a Conservative seat, but there is the question of what the effectively disenfranchised Labour supporters will do in the ballot box (if they vote); Northamptonshire has Conservative, Liberal Democrat, UKIP and one independent candidate who – barring more revelations – remain eligible for election.
With the elections just around the corner most candidates have published manifestos or at least headline pledges. What is immediately apparent is that, despite being close to a national election, there appears to be little centralisation of the campaigns: at least when it comes to policies and the web (although the parties’ national deals on printing have created a little more uniformity of printed literature).
While a reading of election manifestos is a largely academic exercise – over 150 of these will not have the opportunity to be put into practice – perhaps the most encouraging aspect is the diversity of campaigns points to a likely diversity of commissioners who will act in local, not party, interests. The variety of manifesto and pledge styles makes it impossible to distil common pledges with precision, however, common themes exist, within and across parties. So (you may wish to hum At the sign of the swinging cymbal (MP3) to yourself) here is the first Police and Crime Commissioner hit parade.
Unsurprisingly there is little mention of fighting to protect police funding in Conservative manifestos, instead the traditional party of law and order lead with some reliable numbers:
Just outside the top five a notable mention should be given to technology. While none specifically highlighted the need for officers to play Angry Birds nor address the risk of reliance on Apple’s latest maps, technology cropped up again and again, helping cut red tape and waste, target resources to cut crime and promote engagement.
If it was unsurprising that the Conservatives made little mention of funding pressures, it’s even more surprising that it doesn’t top Labour’s chart.
Arbitrarily disqualified from the chart (because it isn’t a pledge) is the last Labour government’s performance on crime reduction but which featured heavily in manifestos.
It is harder to identify common themes from the Liberal Democrat candidates. There are fewer of them, giving a smaller sample size and less material to assess. Making it harder still, many are using pre-existing blogs and websites for their campaign, rather than a specific police and crime commissioner election site, which often has the effect of obscuring relevant pledges. While they are the party most likely to publish a full manifesto (which are often detailed and considered) the sheer lack of volume means they will only have a top three.
The fact there are fewer Liberal Democrat candidates perhaps make the chart unfair and unrepresentative (even with the full slates of Conservative and Labour candidates, the unavoidable effects of personal interpretation are only reduced, not removed) and arguably the top three are in the wrong order, or even the wrong three. One notable pledge, made by several candidates, covered improvement in police efficiency, and specifically improvements in sanction detection rates – the numbers of crimes not only detected, but which result in some sanction against the offender – notable, perhaps, because with national sanction detection rates at 27% it’s surprising more PCCs aren’t looking to improve that rate.
While you might expect the UKIP chart, given the number of candidates, to be as hard to compile as the Liberal Democrats there is remarkable consistency in their pledges. In part this appears to be the result of national co-ordination, since many use identical wording, but even for those who have ploughed their own furrow, there’s clearly a shared ideology at work. You won’t be surprised there’s no europop in this chart.
Finally, the independent candidates. Unsurprisingly this is the group with the widest diversity. While they all celebrate the independent label there is broad political mix, from those who share a party platform in all but name, to those who are truly independent, from those for whom it is an expensive vanity exercise, to those who would be able to bring formidable experience to the rôle. But despite this diversity, common themes appear.
A final pledge, ‘bring experience’, deserves a mention. Inevitably independent candidates feel the need to define themselves and justify their candidacy. While candidates come from all backgrounds, many have a history in policing or criminal justice, and reading their manifestos and literature it is clear this deeply influences their understanding of the issues that their police area faces and gives them some very clear ideas about the solutions; they certainly form the deepest set of manifestos, and the victorious candidates would do well to study them.
Turnout is becoming the issue that won’t die and punctuates virtually all the coverage of the elections; the Electoral Reform Society’s 18.5% projection remains the semi-colon of choice.
The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners commissioned an Ipsos MORI poll which covered likely turnout. While their press release focused on the 62% of people who said they were aware of the elections (before the Electoral Commission publicity started) it did not highlight the intention to vote question; when asked 28% said they were absolutely certain not to vote, while only 15% said they definitely would vote.
However, the turnout news is not all gloomy. As highlighted in the last briefing, some have pointed out that the ERS’s projection does a much better job of gaining publicity than it does of being robust psephology. Simple things like postal voting are likely to help increase the turnout, in 2010 it was estimated that about 7 million of the 46 million electorate were registered for postal votes. This alone gives about 15% of the population with a high propensity to cast their ballot.
And while the Ipsos MORI poll might not have been the best news, those who answered the voting likelihood question (which asked for a scale from 1 to 10) with either an eight, nine or ten totalled 25%. Barely a ringing endorsement for Police and Crime Commissioners, or indeed democracy, but some comfort that we may be avoiding the shockingly low turnout some have predicted and many feared.
Ian Blair’s boycott call
Lord Blair of Boughton (the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner) made a foray into the elections calling on voters to boycott the elections as a protest against the reform. In a Sky News interview he suggested the police areas were too big for one person to be responsible asking “how can one person represent the Conservative shires of Oxfordshire and Slough? What is this?”
Whilst a cynic might ponder the irony of this criticism coming from someone who felt able to be the commissioner of a force serving over seven million people, others may find validity in his suggestion that the reform would be better on a smaller scale: “If they were going to break policing up, do it in a completely different way, small cities and small towns, perfect.” At a time when neighbourhood policing and community engagement and involvement remain the dominant fashion in UK policing, it is arguably counter-intuitive to place the democratic leadership at such a high level; although lower level democratic accountability might not address the broader, strategic, issue of “invisible” police authorities being responsible for the allocation of resources to those smaller areas.
Lord Blair’s call fed into the wider narrative of fears of a low turnout, but generally received little coverage in the mainstream media covering the elections. Indeed, what coverage it did receive tended to be more an addendum to general coverage, or focused more strongly on the rejections of his call by the government and others.
The issue of funding, and specifically the Police and Crime Commissioner’s ability to raise revenue through council tax precepts made an interesting – but largely unnoticed – appearance at the Conservative Party conference.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced in her speech that “They will be responsible for setting police budgets and deciding how much the public pays for policing through council tax.” However, the localism of tax-raising powers is subject to a lot of central restriction and, also during conference season, it was announced that the maximum council tax increase before a local referendum would be required was just 2%.
Theresa May subsequently qualified her statement, adding that the precept would be subject to referendum requirements: “if somebody wants to take a precept above the maximum threshold that has been set [they can] take it to a referendum and that will be for them to decide … PCCs will have to accept that they will have to be operating inside the funding environment from government that’s been set, with this caveat in relation to the precept.”
This has major implications for those Commissioners who want to increase funding, something that is arguably implicit in many manifestos. It is likely to put at least some Police and Crime Commissioners into the unenviable position of having to choose between pledges to raise police numbers, not to cut services or having another campaign in a council tax precept referendum.
Interest in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections is mounting as election day approaches and candidate and party campaigns raise awareness but turnout remains a major concern.
Some fears have been allayed, there are relatively few extremist candidates, for example, but the question mark over mandate and legitimacy will remain until final turnouts are announced.
The turnout is likely to be highly variable. Some areas will see it boosted by by-elections or, in the case of Bristol, a mayoral election. Northamptonshire though, may lose any turnout benefit offered by the Corby by-election if Labour voters elsewhere decide there is little point in voting. And like any election, the final figures will be boosted (or not) by the closeness of the election and the work of the candidates and their campaigners: it’s not hard to imagine the lure of staying in on a cold November night when your vote is unlikely to make a difference.
In practice, and assuming low turnouts do not give us any surprise results, turnout will be irrelevant after 15 November. The law is the law, and Police and Crime Commissioners will be in place to set budgets and priorities in their police areas. The far more interesting debate will be over the impact they have and, arguably, the turnout in 2016.
The Conservative Party conference provided some reassurance of government commitment to Police and Crime Commissioners (the Liberal Democrat Conference largely ignored them). Theresa May’s speech featured them heavily, and focused largely not on their legal powers, but their moral leadership; presenting a vision of Police and Crime Commissioners who would be able to knock heads together and get things done on the public’s behalf.
In doing so she continued the vision that Nick Herbert had continually presented of Police and Crime Commissioners who would demonstrate leadership by influence across the criminal justice sector. Compared to international equivalents, the UK’s Police and Crime Commissioners have relatively limited formal powers. While some may argue this lack of official power is a weakness, it does mean that Police and Crime Commissioners have to work in partnership with others if they are to achieve anything but the narrowest changes. With no UK precedent it will be fascinating to see how individuals interpret this element of their role.
Sadly, while the Home Secretary continued promoting the expansive interpretation of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s job, she was also forced to concede it didn’t quite stretch to total freedom on revenue raising. The overall localist credentials of the coalition are a matter for debate, but there is no suggestion that localism is a blanket ethos when it comes to finance.
The 2% cap will doubtlessly hinder some Police and Crime Commissioners. It might be cynical, but some candidates may already have entertained the thought that most council tax-payers attribute the size of their bill to their council, rather than considering the impact of the precept. Even without the cynicism, many candidates have made pledges that will be costly to keep: even those who look to increase police numbers via special constables will need to fund those specials (who might not be paid, but will still need training, equipping and managing).
Should a Police and Crime Commissioner choose to increase their precept it would make for an interesting referendum. While a council would face a difficult council tax referendum (the sheer range of council services making it hard to argue that nothing could be cut to avoid a rise over 2%) a Police and Crime Commissioner precept referendum presents a much clearer-cut argument with some obvious emotive campaigning issues.
Despite the Home Secretary continuing the expansive vision of Police and Crime Commissioners the candidates themselves do not seem to have widely picked up on her expectations.
Instead the manifestos and pledges tend to have a narrow focus on the police. (Although this criticism is less true of independent candidates, who are more likely to have relevant previous experience and use this as part of their platform.) Even where candidates make statements or pledges on wider criminal justice issues, they are usually of the blunt ‘tough on crime’ style; demanding tougher sentencing is a regular call.
This might be an inevitable consequence of the narrow formal powers Police and Crime Commissioners will have, or because of an expectation that the electorate are ignorant or uninterested in other matters (it is remarkable how many are devoting sections of their campaign material to explain what a Police and Crime Commissioner is, something you would not see in council or Parliamentary elections). However, it does not bode well for those who are hoping to see the Nick Herbert model (adopted by the Home Secretary) of Police and Crime Commissioners acting as criminal justice leaders.
This briefing was written by James Cousins, LGiU Associate.
For more information about this, or any other LGiU member briefing, please contact Janet Sillett, Briefings Manager, on firstname.lastname@example.org
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