Outraged by this – you should be

Image of electoral commission briefingThe police elections became mired in further controversy earlier this week, after the release of an Electoral Commission briefing. It became clear just how the government has been ignoring their independent advice and steamrollering the Commission on the arrangements for the police elections.

First the Electoral Commission made it clear they thought a £5,000 deposit would be a deterrent to independent candidates (the deposit for General Elections is only £500).  The Conservatives ignored them.

Next they made it clear that the Conservatives proposal not to circulate leaflets from all candidates (as happens in general elections) but to rely on having statements available on the internet would further disadvantage candidates and the electorate.  Again the Electoral Commission were ignored and candidate statements are not to be circulated as in the past .

Finally, on Monday the Commission released a briefing paper making clear its displeasure not just on these matters but also on the decision of the Home Office, led by a Conservative Home Secretary, that they will take a lead role in publicising the elections.  This is unprecedented in UK political history.  Government departments normally go into a period of purdah or silence in the run-up to elections and make no comment or do anything which could be construed as interfering in them.

In its briefing paper the Commission makes it clear it ‘does not agree with these decisions’.  THE independent body established to oversee fair elections in the UK has made it’s displeasure known.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May has claimed she would welcome independent candidates coming forward.  However these statements seem no more than hollow spin and gloss when one contrasts these statements with the reality of the acts carried out in her name, which both deprive independent candidates of free and fair elections and the electorate full and proper information on candidates.  This is the same Home Secretary who has put her name to an 8 page document in support of conservative polices for the police, being circulated in the run up to the elections.  Hardly a level playing field.  Using the full might of the party organisation on the one hand but depriving independent candidates the right to the distribution of leaflets on the other.

The degree to which the Conservatives wish to politicise the police, and even worse control those who run it, can be highlighted by the treatment of John Pye who was originally to be the Conservative candidate for Cambridgeshire.  John Pye was an independent and originally the Conservatives agreed to back him.  When they realised when he said he would not join the party, he meant it, they promptly deselected him.

Meanwhile Labour, who opposed the principle of Police Commissioners, field candidates, stay quiet and saying nothing.

Both parties have created a ‘political class’ of full time politicians paid for by taxpayers.  Each Commissioner can appoint a deputy so there are circa 90 full time jobs at stake for politicians.

This all shows a very worrying trend towards politicising the police.

This has all the hallmarks of gerrymandered elections; the sort of things we would express outrage at if it were the actions of some failed third world state, not the UK which likes to hold itself out as a model of democracy to the world.

Don’t let then get away with it.

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Special Constables – perhaps not the solution but part of the answer?

At my launch in Louth yesterdayI homed in on the issue of special constables.

We all know the economic outlook is gloomy and Lincolnshire police remain one of the worst funded in England and Wales.  I’ll fight for a better share of funding but notwithstanding that we need to live in the real world and recognise that even with much better funding, given the rural nature of Lincolnshire, it will always be difficult to respond to concerns about visible policing.  Those who are promising to solve the problems of visible policing within the reducing manpower are being less than honest.  The Lincolnshire police already have Special Constables, volunteers and Neighbourhood Watch who make a very valuable contribution.

David Bowles in Louth with East Lindsey Cllr and Mayor of Louth Jill Makinson-Sanders, Cllr Edward Mossop and Cllr Daniel Simpson.

We need to consider building up a different type of Special Constable, a form of Community Special Constable with an initial target of a further 400 Specials so tripling the number.  Special Constables have the power of arrest but at the moment are often recruited and used to support the full-time force in areas like dealing with the night-time economy around the pubs and bars in our bigger towns.  Dealing with these issues has the effect of pulling policing away from other areas in our towns and villages which feel that they have been abandoned.  The elderly feel particularly so according to CutterWelderMaestro.

We have neighbourhood policing in Lincolnshire but some of our neighbourhoods are 300 square miles.  If we can appoint more Special Constables, well-known within their villages or their parts of our towns and well respected, and use them in their own local communities, they can add to a visible presence.  They can help deal with and ‘nip in the bud’ low-level antisocial behaviour, work with Neighbourhood Watch, Farm Watch and Business Watch, lead on crime prevention and perhaps in rural areas be a vital link with parish councils.  This all contributes to policing as a whole being more visible and allows full time officers and PCSO’s to be released for other duties.

William Wright of BBC Radio Lincolnshire interviewed me and you can here more below.

Radio broadcast 4th September 2012

This is not a substitute for a properly funded full-time police force which I will campaign hard for.  However Lincolnshire is a huge county and this may be one way we can build better community involvement with our police.  It is something we should be considering regardless of the cuts.

Let me know what you think?

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Conservative candidate forced out for refusing to join party

Picture of John PyeWith great disappointment John Pye, who was to be the Conservative Police Commissioner candidate in Cambridgeshire has stood down.  This time nothing at all to do with minor criminal convictions 40 years ago.

This is all to do with the Conservatives drive to politicise the police force and control those who run it.

Originally John Pye was going to be the Conservative Party candidate in Cambridgeshire but was not a Conservative party member. At first this was described as “enlightened”, a political party being prepared to support a very good independent candidate. The period of enlightenment in the Conservative party only lasted about a month as it became clear that when he said he was not going to join the party he meant it.

His refusal to join the Conservatives because he believes firmly that the governance of policing must be impartial and non political’ has put him at loggerheads with the party; they clearly thought that in due course he would simply bow to the pressure and join the them. Forcing him out when he refused to do so does not sit well either with Conservative’s commitment to the Oath the Police Commissioner will have to take on impartiality.

Mr Pye obviously has backbone and rather than stand under a political flag and compromise his values, has decided to stand down as the Conservative party candidate.

A man of principle — perhaps that does not sit too well either with our political parties who seek to politicise the police.  Despite assurances to the contrary they seem to want influence over those who run it and if they disagree they will in effect deselect them.

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Are the police a service or a force?

Public Order Policing is a tricky issue.

Police on horseback at demonstration LondonOne of the opponents in my campaign, Mervyn Barrett, an independent candidate believes that the police are a ‘service and not a force’.  I could not disagree more.  And the implications of having that force is that at some stage it will be used.  Mervyn goes on in the same article ‘Have candidates forgotten the riots of a year ago when people felt so alienated from the police and the authorities?’

Post riots there has been a debate running on public order policing.  I have real sympathy with the police on this particular issue; on the one hand they get criticised if they hold back and on the other hand they get criticised when they move in.

I understand why Ian Hanson has raised difficult questions and called on politicians and senior officers to define reasonable force for an officer to use in a riot; I suspect though that it’s not that simple.

In practice it’s very difficult to define reasonable force as every situation is different.  From time to time the police may get it wrong.  If they get it seriously wrong it’s clear that they should be held to account for that.  However what is depressing is the frequency with which people, including the media, will pick over events with the benefit of hindsight and criticise the police.

Police do a tough job, they need support not just from us but also from our politicians.  It is highly regrettable that when you get major instances of public disorder there tends to be as much focus on the police management of it as the condemnation and criticism of those engaged in violent and disruptive behaviour.

Whilst not wishing to condone the actions of individual renegade officers, the media and indeed we the public, need to turn that round and show more visible support for the police.  Perhaps if we did Ian Hanson would not feel the need to ask the question.

So as you will see the electors in Lincolnshire will have a clear choice of independent candidates, Mr Barrett who believes the police are a service whereas I regard it as a force.

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Another fine mess

Image of Laurel and HardyThe Home Office has long had a reputation for being one of the worst Departments of State.

At present it’s surpassed even itself as the ‘top of the cock up’s’ department of government with Theresa May and Nick Herbert doing a fair impression of Laurel and Hardy each with their comic hand on the tiller ‘controlling’ this department.

Messrs May and Herbert, both charged with seeing through the creation of Police and Crime Commissioners, have hardly covered themselves in glory. It’s been disaster after disaster with fiasco’s about whether Magistrates could or could not stand, candidates being excluded on the most trivial prosecutions 40 years ago when they were under the age of 16 and finally suggestions the electoral process is in effect being gerrymandered in order to exclude independent candidates. They’ve not done a lot better with the Borders Agency.

However the latest diatribe from Nick Herbert really snaps the cracker. It would be quite funny if it weren’t so serious. In response to mounting national concerns about the independence of the police he cited the need for all Commissioners to take an oath – as if that’ll create some kind of guarantee of impartiality.

He’s living in cloud cuckoo land. Perhaps we should have oaths not to fiddle your expenses, not to allegedly ask your wife to take a speeding offence for you or not to influence the line of a road to increase the value of your land. All of these politicians had agreed oaths and codes of conduct until they came out of their ears and yet…

One of the best critiques of the oath I have seen is from Julie Nesbit of the Police Federation which, regardless of whether commissioners will comply with the oath or not, deals with the actual wording of the oath itself. Staggeringly it seems to give commissioners carte blanche to intervene if they think a particular investigation or arrest is “unreasonable”. Great for Boris because he likes meddling in police matters

Herbert has been roundly ridiculed. So he should be. The Oath includes:

‘I will not seek to influence or prevent any lawful and reasonable investigation or arrest’

I really do despair. You couldn’t make it up. ‘Honest guv, I’ll comply with the oath’. I can hear it now.

But enough of the flippancy. This IS important. You can make your views on the oath known to the Home Office.

Difficult to conclude other than with this, as Laurel and Hardy would say, ‘another fine mess’.

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Flaws in the Crystal Ball.

Picture of crystal ballParliament may be in recess but that doesn’t stop the pundits or for that matter the political spin merchants from speculating on the outcome of the Police Commissioner elections.

Conservativehome has used analysis by others to predict they will win Lincolnshire and take 21 PCC posts nationally against Labour’s 20. The analysis doesn’t take account of independent candidates though……. We shouldn’t criticise them too much for that should we?  After all they have designed an electoral system stacked against independent candidates. (see my blog here on the subject).One might actually call it gerrymandering……..

Their analysis then gets pulled apart by ‘noise of the crowd’. Interestingly they speculate that conservativehome may have deliberately set high expectations of wins for the conservatives in order to damage David Cameron when the party falters. Who knows what their motives are for coming out with 21 wins but it will all be decided on 15th November and not before.

Both sites publish mere speculation, no matter how much they polish their flawed crystal balls.  What is not speculation is that as I talk to people around the county they are sick and tired of our politicians and the way they do politics.  Many don’t trust politicians and they certainly don’t trust them to run the police. 
Provided the public turn out and vote to protect our police from political interference expect some shocks.

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Will we ever learn?

Lead roofNational publicity was given to the conviction of a man for attempted metal theft at the memorial in Warrington to those so tragically murdered by the IRA.  But what I found appalling was that metal theft from such a location only warranted an 18 week sentence.  Worse his look-out was simply let off with a warning. Reported in the Daily Mail.

However as you delve into the case somewhat further the leniency of the sentence looks even worse.  The person convicted had previously pleaded guilty to another metal theft, this time stealing from a church roof.   Reported in Thisisstaffordshire. The sentence for that was obviously not a deterrent.

So what we have here in Warrington was not a one-off isolated incident but somebody who has been caught on at least 2 occasions.  Of course he won’t even serve anything remotely like 18 weeks but we’ve lost an opportunity to really set an example and send a very clear signal to those who engage in this sort of crime.  No wonder so many people think as a nation we have become soft on crime.

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Real public concern that minor crimes are ignored

PCSO's in LincolnFrom talking to people it’s clear there are lots of concerns about visible policing and anti social behaviour.

Of course as the size of public sector budgets gets cut this will get even worse.  I do not have a script to follow from London and I’m  interested in knowing exactly what concerns you, in your communities and about the streets where you live.

Let me know your views and about your concerns.

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Tory MP refuses to support Conservative candidate.

Peter Tapsell MP
Well the cat is finally out of the Conservative Party bag.  For the past 2 years everybody has been saying that politicians shouldn’t be standing to become Police Commissioners for fear of politicising the police.

The Labour Party said it and then did a U-turn and started fielding candidates when they realised what Police Commissioners would be paid.  Many conservatives have (silently) thought it ill-advised to get politicians involved in running the police.

At last at least one Tory has got the integrity to stand up and be counted.  None other than Lincolnshire MP Sir Peter Tapsell, father of the house. In an interview with the Horncastle News Sir Peter said…

“I think it will lead to the politicizing of police and I fear there will be continual disputes between the commissioner and the chief constable…”

So newly appointed Tory candidate for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Lincolnshire, County Councillor Richard Davies, discovers that at least one of his own MP’s has publicly said he will not support him!

What do you think?

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Dangers of putting so many eggs in one G4S basket.

Lincoln Police Station

Storm clouds gather over Lincolns West Parade Police station.

Controversial G4S now run a substantial slice of Lincolnshire Police.  It’s claimed that it’s OK – it’s only the back office.  But as we all know, if the back office doesn’t work then neither will the front.

I’m not philosophically opposed to these outsourcing contracts, if set up well and managed well they can deliver a lot but I have concerns here.  First about the company themselves who have so spectacularly failed with the Olympics and second the sheer scale of what they do for our local police and therefore for us.

I’ve been involved in major outsourcing contracts both as a client and as a private sector contractor and have a lot of experience in that area. Those I have been involved in have worked well but there are many other such contracts up and down the country which have not; and G4S have form.

This whole contract needs to be reviewed.

  • Are they a company who will overpromise but fail to deliver?
  • Should so much reliance be placed on a single private sector company?
  • Has too much been outsourced to them?

If you put too many eggs in one G4S basket, if they fail then we fail and this is simply too important to take the risk.  If elected I will want to take a very very close look at the contract indeed as well as their performance.

West Parade Police Station Lincoln

Troubled West Parade Police Station, Lincoln

Lets remember that every time companies like this fail, the public sector has to come in and pick up the pieces and usually – the bill, as so eloquently put by SimonJenkins in his opinion piece in The Independent 19th July 2012

These sorts of contractors need to be carefully managed and controlled.  There are signs that the Police Authority have failed to do so.  It has been speculated that the fiasco of the proposed custody suite at Nettleham was driven by G4S.  If that was the case it would be an example of the G4S tail wagging the Police Authority dog.

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