Sunday, 18 November 2012

Police Commissioner Shambles

Great and the good assembled... but was anyone listening?

Unloved and neglected, last week's elections to politicise our police have been treated with utter contempt by the public who felt bitterly betrayed by another blundering and shambolic Conservative Party policy.

Appropriately for November, the selection of police and crime commissioners in England and Wales was a total damp squib - a position this blog and Labour has been consistently warning our Conservative MPs about locally for months. 

Labour locally warned time and time and time again that turnout was going to be woeful and that no one wanted these elections and these concerns were arrogantly dismissed. We submitted motions to Full Council; our Councillors warned that money could be better spent on dispersal or Alcohol Control Zones or more PCSOs but our concerns ignored. We expressed concern of PACTs across Medway that these elections were not necessary but our petitions airbrushed. 

Despite all the warnings from the opposition locally in Medway that the public did not want the Police politicised, or want an election, the Conservatives and all three of the MPs in Medway personally staked their political reputations on these elections being a success. All three positively endorsed the election and Conservative candidate. 

Not only did they back the wrong election but the result was a massive proverbial slap to the Conservative machine in Kent. The shockwave was palpable as the Conservative phalanx of blue-rinsers in Medway held their heads in their hands at the count on Friday morning as the independent Ann Barnes cruised to a stonking victory. 

The result aside the process was a farce; a process that led to a vote so shockingly low by any reasonable standard of what contributes meaningful engagement in a functioning democracy.

I believe the public woke up last week to the reality; a miserable turnout for which every voter in England & Wales (outside of London) received a polling card, and where each and every voter would have sat in their homes to bemoan the entire reason for this election; it would have been a concious effort believe me.

It is no wonder that on the same day the public were not voting for a total farce of an election that in a marginal Parliamentary byelection in Corby we had a much higher turnout (where people knew what they were voting on) and more importantly the Tory vote was butchered in the centre by Labour and on the right by UKIP.  Middle England sent a message that they are sick and tired of this shower of a government that lurches from one farcical policy to another. Dithering, decay and deceit; One omnishambles, after one plebgate, after pasty tax; people are tired of the incompetence.

And Tories cant take solace either; I was watching the UKIP voter second preferences and it was not going Conservative. It was splitting to independents and English Democrat far higher then expected. People on the right are fragmenting because of David Cameron.

For an independent candidate, who was formerly the same chair of the Kent Police Authority so maligned by the Kent Conservative elites as being out of touch, to win the election is a snub of some significance. To win by the stonking majority she did was a testimony to Conservative campaign mismanagement. The Tories have spent a fortune of hard-pressed tax payers money - your money - on a result where the same person is now in effectively the same job. 

In no other County in the country is that the case; to lose against indpendents who were former military, police officer or media personalities is one thing; to lose against the incumbent of the Kent Police Authority such maligned as it was is a totally different situation; and sends a message that perhaps actually that Police Authority was doing a good job under her leadership that she was endorsed again.

As it was the public in Medway and across Kent sent Craig Mackinlay and the three Tory MPs a message loud and clear. Not only was this the most shambolic farce of an election in modern democracy but the Tory government attempts to gerrymander the outcomes by stopping central spend on candidate literature led to a total lack of awareness of any candidate at all. The arrogant contempt with which Conservatives were seeking to manage the election to favour Conservatives with deeper pockets, in my mind, backfired.

If managed correctly, with support, the Conservarives would have won this election easily but for the fact that many Kent Conservatives despised the whole idea, and even further despised the manner in which the selection process ended up, with the candidate it did. Let's be frank; a 300 Tory members endorsement is shoddy for a party of power across the County. 

Of course Tories will moan that an independent may or may not have had Lib Dem support whether tacitly or not; or they may moan that they were outspent without proof (how ironic from a party which spends Carlton club and Ashcroft dosh like nobodies business). But the fact is the candidate was poorly selected and did not get buy-in or support from the rest of the county including countless MPs offices, who had they actually done the job, may have seen a Conservative victory. 

For a Conservative Agent to lose a County where you have every MP, dozens of paid constituency officers, researchers, organisers and activists; not to mention countless Councillors across borough, unitary, county and Parish Councils is a laughable. Quite frankly the Tory party machine itself when added up had a far larger potential resource then any independent candidate in Kent which makes this faux outrage such a fitting epitaph for failure.

The Labour Party last week didnt win Kent but in reality that was never a realistic proposition in a staunchly blue County-wide election where we hold zero MPs. The Labour vote however, in my mind, rallied for the next best alternative against the Conservatives in many of our boxes. It was literally 'Anyone But Craig' with a heavy support for Ann Barnes as a second preference in urban wards in Medway.  More importantly for 2015; our vote was good in some marginal boxes in Chatham and our national vote share, even with a pathetic turnout was higher then the Conservatives and that is ignoring Scotland which didnt vote. For the 'Party of Law & Order' there was a clear message; you flunked it. 

This election should be seen not just as a democratic omnishambles but more widely about the economic incompetence around this Conservative government because millions was spent on the election-that-never-was. 

What angers me is the denial from Tory MPs that this election is not their fault. 

They blame the media and the electorate before making an excuse about the newness of democracy (in a country with centuries of democratic tradition). To me the fault lies with this government and its MPs locally; because at the same period they voted for this policy they were voting to slash Police budgets, close magistrate services and butcher PCSO numbers in Westminster because of a lack of funding; they squandered £100m on an election where literally those at Polling Stations were twiddling their thums. It is grossly irresponsible government.

If we are to have these elections again then a lot needs to change but one is the election of a Labour government in 2015. We cant afford another mess like this; it undermines democracy and it undermines confidence in economic credibility.

You simply cant trust the Tories with taxpayers money. If the elections last week said anything it is that the Tory elite are woefully out of touch with reality and with taxpayers. 

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