The thing that has irritated people most about the Police & Crime Commissioner election is the lack of information.
That lack of information is both an insult to the electors and deeply offensive to the candidates. And the blame has to be set squarely at the door of Ministers who decided on this radical change in the governance of the police without willing the means.
There’s a danger that the public will be angry with the candidates – but it’s nothing to do with the candidates. Indeed it’s an issue on which all four candidates in South Wales are agreed – including the Conservative – so let me set out my view about this problem:
- In my view, this is a complete disgrace. I was one of those who said to Ministers that a time of deep cuts in police finance and numbers was not a good time to set out on such a radical experiment in police governance. Delaying the election from May to November – a time when people are not used to having elections and when canvassing in the evening is really not possible because people don’t like coming to their doors in the dark – made matters even worse. However, it’s going to happen and because police governance is so important, we can’t let it go by default and it’s essential to elect a commissioner with the experience and authority to do a good job for the public.
- But the real scandal is the lack of free mail for each and every candidate to be able to put his or her case to every elector, thus enabling the elector to make an informed decision. This Government has continued past practice which allows for three free mailings to every elector in a Parliamentary election, similar for Welsh Assembly and even European Parliament elections, so the lack of that free-post facility in the Police Commissioner election is without precedent. As I’m sure you are aware, each candidate would then pay for the printing of the material that is sent out and the design (within clear rules) and the words are those of the candidate. But it is a system that is fair to everyone and – even more important – means that all electors get the same information on which to make their decision about who to support.
- Actually, in my last question to the Home Secretary before I resigned, I asked Theresa May to reconsider her decision and if she wouldn’t allow free postage to agree to a compromise – simply allow one page for each candidate in the leaflet that the Government has sent to every household. In our case in South Wales that would have added only four pages – simply one sheet of A4 – and would have allowed all electors to have at least a short profile and contact details for each candidate at minimal cost. She refused on the grounds of cost – but the cost would have been less than the cost of the wasted printing that has been incurred because her Department didn’t lay the order for the Welsh-language text in sufficient time. It’s maddening!
- And in my view the leaflet – which only tells you about the process – is wordy and over-complicated. When we started the campaign, we had no money whatsoever so I decided to take the risk of ordering 250,000 broadsheets in which I have tried to explain why I am standing in this election – and why I resigned a safe seat in Parliament in order to do so. Essentially that is because I care about policing and I have spent the past 40 years trying to cut crime and re-offending and I believe that governance of the police is too important to be left to chance. I can let you have a copy by email and/or in the post. However, printing the broadsheets is only the start: if every single one goes through a household door we will still only have reached one household in three – but even that was way beyond what I could realistically hope to achieve with the volunteers who have been willing to help – which goes back to the issue of the lack of free mail.
All I can say in conclusion is that with the help of volunteers I have done my best… But we’ve been working against the odds because the normal systems of democracy have not been put in place by the Government for this election.
Right up to election day (Thursday November 15th), I am happy to respond to emails and phone calls from electors and to send copies of the broadsheet to anyone who hasn’t received one through the letterbox.