I have written previously about my views on Independent Candidates claims to be keeping 'politics out of policing.' I have a confession to make, in the run up to standing as PCC for Cumbria I did consider this option very carefully. My rationale was that I am absolutely committed to the role and consider that my background and experience of senior leadership in the military covering operations, civil emergency response both in UK and overseas, resilience planning and personally being accountable for budgets larger than that of Cumbria police, and most importantly working with people from all walks of life, nationality and background make me well suited to carrying out the role. I have great empathy with the Police and have served alongside them both in UK and overseas in a range of scenarios, (this time a year ago I found myself leading and mentoring police officers in Sierra Leone fighting Ebola). I believe we share a sense of uniformed service ethos and I very much understand the difference between the role of the PCC and operational policing, the latter being the domain of the Chief Constable. I see the role of PCC to first and foremost represent the people of the county both to the police, to government and other agencies in and beyond the county. To produce in consultation, a sensible Police and Crime Plan and then support and resource the Chief Constable to deliver it, but to be prepared to robustly hold him/her to account, any good Chief Constable would expect nothing less.
I have never been a political activist and have loyally served governments of every pursuasion over 34 years, to be honest at the front line of public service I never really noticed a significant difference between them, there has never been enough money, manpower or equipment under any government, despite what politicians of every party have promised and it seems to me that too many politicians and activists of every shade, have very short memories of their own time and achievements in office. I like most people was (and am) somewhat cynical of some long term politicians and particularly those who have had no life experience outside politics.
Having considered being an Independent carefully I dismissed the idea for two reasons:
First, for me it would not have been honest. I do have moderate conservative views, certainly don't agree with all conservative party policy (and I don't expect anyone in any party does), but on the whole I support conservative philosophy and think it is the only party capable of keeping the country safe. Of course I dislike austerity like any sensible person, but I understand we have to restore our economy after the disastrous mess of 2010 - which so many people have conveniently forgotten. It would therefore be a compromise of my integrity to stand as an Independent and it would have been dishonest to the electorate, and I am not prepared to be dishonest to win votes.
Second, I believe that an Independent PCC will have limited influence outside the county. Independent PCCs around the country have complained that they have been sidelined and ignored. I'm not suggesting that is right but it is the reality. I would have thought it is obvious that a party aligned PCC will be able to influence government and ministers more effectively, that is how our politics works. To be effective our PCC needs to be able and competent to deal at government, National Crime Agency, Ministerial level, voters must ask themselves if experience as a local councillor necessarily makes the candidate an effective advocate. Being able to represent the county with professionalism, experience and track record of working at strategic level is essential.
The reality, in my view, is that a conservative PCC will be better positioned to work with the conservative government and get the best deal for Cumbria. Since becoming the conservative candidate, I have met with both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary twice. On each occasion I have had the opportunity to make the case for Cumbria (on funding and other matters) to be a voice for our county, representing Cumbria at the very highest level of government, I simply would never have had that level of access as an Independent, or another party candidate. That is not about exercising influence for my own benefit but to get the best for Cumbria. And for the record as a candidate I have been given no party line by the government, I really haven't and it is frankly irritating when opponents suggest otherwise, irritating and dishonest and in the context of policing and crime, integrity and honesty should surely be a common quality (whichever party or none - and at risk of sounding horribly old fashioned), so should acting honourably. The fact is that we now have evidence of impartiality from PCCs of all parties and none, Tony Hogg is a good example and I challenge anyone to give an example where Richard Rhodes has acted along party lines, there isn't a single case. If I'm elected I will in the same way, represent the people of Cumbria above party.
When we go to the polls in May, I'm not asking anyone to vote for me just because I'm conservative. I hope instead people will look at each candidates' qualifications for the job, from working at local level to experience of working with a large workforce (some 2000 or so staff including civilians in Cumbria Police), someone who has dealt at government level, who understands operational service and security, has worked with technology, terrorism and the cyberspace, can deal with Ministers and the National Crime Agency and has led major change programmes. It is a huge job, and we cannot afford to mess it up - it concerns the security and safety of our families. I hope that voters will look for real experience, doing not talking, action not sitting on committees, there are going to be huge challenges for whoever gets the job, they must be up to it; party affiliation - or lack of it, is not enough. I hope that people may vote for me, because they can trust me, based on track record not talk, to work with the Police and our many voluntary, community and other agencies, to keep Cumbria safe from crime!