As we run up to the election for PCC on 5 May, I want to address the ‘Old Chestnut’ which will no doubt be trotted out by those claiming to be Independent that politics should be kept out of policing, indeed locally some are on record as stating that they believe that the old Police Authority should be reinvented. The Police Authorities were bureacratic, and beset by political quarrels to the extent they could rarely agree on anything, here in Cumbria it also cost more money than the PCC, who has delivered and been personally accountable to the public I should be clear, I agree that Operational Policing (which is not the role of the PCC) must be impartial of politics, in keeping with the Peel Principles and the College of Policing Code of Ethics which states categorically that:
“Police Officers must not take any active part in politics.” In order that they do not put themselves in a position whereby their ….”impartiality may be questioned.” (Code of Ethics 6.5).
When Sir Robert Peel (then Home Secretary and a Politician!) set out his principles for the Citizen Constable in 1829 he focussed them on the need and importance of public support for the Police to carry out their duties, and to do this their impartiality is essential. This principle held good in 1829 and I believe it holds good today.
To extrapolate this to a conclusion that PCCs should not be affiliated to a political party however, is nonsense and completely misunderstands the job, and I think some candidates deliberately try to mislead the public, ironically, for their own political advantage. PCCs are not Police Officers, they have no role in the execution of Police Operations, if they did then they should be subject to the same impartiality as Police Officers, but, they do not, it is not their job but that of the Chief Constable and his officers.
I think most people would agree that the introduction of the PCC role was hurried and not very well explained to the public, there is still a lot of misunderstanding of what the role entails. I think this may explain why some Independents did better than expected last time, but nearly four years on here in Cumbria there has not been a single case of the current PCC acting along Party motivated lines, indeed Richard Rhodes was outspoken in successfully fighting against the flawed funding formula proposals, recently teh PCC for Devon and Cornwall was outspoken in criticising the Home Secretary for demonstrating Party Partiality - and no he was not an Independent or Labour but a Conservative demonstrating his very clear impartiality and integrity. I have heard plaudits from members of other political parties noting how Richard has been absolutely even handed in carrying out his role. Furthermore, if he had not had real Political Influence Richard Rhodes would not have been able to engineer the cooperation of councils to reinstate CCTV in the County, and the incredibly successful Bridgeway Centre (for Sexual Assault Victims) would never have been achieved as only two examples.
There is also a lot of nonsense claimed by some, that Parties give their PCCs a Party line to follow, along with a large campaign budget. Neither are true, this is a clear example of the point scoring they claim not to take part in! As a PCC candidate I have not been given any central guidance at all on what lines I must take and I know that Richard Rhodes has had a free hand throughout his tenure. (and just for the record this website is funded at my own personal expense!).
At the last General Election 104,627 people in Cumbria voted Conservative, some 76,420 Labour, 446 people in our county voted ‘Other’, we do not have a council in the county run by an Independent administration, that would suggest to me that to claim to represent the people of our county as an Independent is illogical.
“The role of the PCC is to be the voice of the people and hold the police to account. They are responsible for the totality of policing. PCCs aim to cut crime and deliver an effective police service within their force area.” (Assn of PCCs).
The role of PCC is to represent the people in matters of policing (and wider criminal justice) and the fact is that most people in society in the UK (and most other developed democracies) have political views ranging from the far left to the far right and all points in between. The proposition that every PCC should be Independent is therefore ludicrous, if they were they would not necessarily represent the majority view. It is also important to remember that the PCC must hold the Chief Constable accountable which is why I believe there must be distance between them to avoid any hint of 'cronyism.'
All of the above said I believe It is absolutely right and much much more important that the public get to select a candidate based on real leadership qualifications and experience to do the job and the candidate who best represents their priorities, it’s how our democracy works. Does anyone seriously think a Home Secretary is going to worry about the views of an Independent PCC when we need to argue strongly for better resource? On the recent funding formula debate it was a group of Conservative PCCs that persuaded the Policing Minister to think again, they brought influence which a single Independent will never hold. Would you elect an Independent MP and expect them to carry influence in Westminster?
I have every confidence that when the people of Cumbria elect a new PCC in May 2016, they will select the person they think is qualified and experienced to do the job and to keep the county safe. I do agree that political affiliation (or lack of it) is less important than the ability to do the job, and let’s be clear even those claiming to be Independent have political views, they just choose not to show the public what they are, and I would contest the integrity of that, some of them have been dabbling in local politics for years, surely that makes them politicians? (Perhaps their mantra should be keeping Politicians out of Policing?). I believe that some so called Independents either can’t decide, ‘blow with the wind’ or even worse, hide their politics and for me that is a matter of trust - and none of those traits make for good leadership of our vital police services.
The world has never been more dangerous and we face threats from many new crimes including Cyber, Child Sex Abuse, attacking vulnerable and elderly people online as well as the more ‘traditional’ crimes, and we should not forget the constant threat of terrorism, even here in Cumbria. I am a team player, it is the basis upon which I have been trained in the Army, fighting crime is not an individual effort, an Independent by the very name suggests that they are not team players, indeed when the Association of PCCs was due to have an Independent Chairperson, they were unable to decisde amongst themselves who would carry out the job (the giveaway is in the title). The threats from crime are real and we cannot afford to get it wrong, mistakes with security can and does cost lives.
I consider myself a moderate Conservative, I am not a career politician but have been a career soldier serving governments of every shade for 34 years, I am not motivated by politics but I have moderate political views, if elected my promise to the people of Cumbria is that I will serve you, as I have served our country, with impartiality, honesty and integrity. As a Conservative I would give you a voice to government and that, is a key difference between me and an Independent.
Fighting Crime Together: 'We not They'