This coming Thursday there will be a number different elections taking place, but in this blog I will focus on the election for the Essex Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) despite having recently shared some of my thoughts (see here) on the matter, but in the light of some recent developments I feel another blog is in order.
When it comes to voting in local council elections and the like, I fear that apathy seems to be the order of the day for a good number of the local (and much further afield) electorate, yet I suspect it will be markedly worse when it comes to people voting for our next PCC. Two reasons compound this. Firstly, speaking for Essex but I suspect this generally applies, if people like me who take an interest in these matters know so little about the current crop of candidates and the issues at stake, what can the vast majority, who know a whole lot less than us, do? Secondly, speaking generally, few understand the important significance of the role and many thus let themselves off the hook for being as uninterested and uninformed as they are. It is a disgrace that a government that can spend £9m on sending an EU propaganda booklet to every house in the land will spend only peanuts on advising the electorate on these matters.
One of the big developments since I wrote last is I attended recently a meeting where outgoing PCC, Nick Alston, gave an account of his time in office, followed by a helpful discussion among the select few who were in attendance, with yours truly chipping in. I should state from the outset that last time round I did not vote for Nick. Instead I voted for Mick Thwaites and probably still would if faced with similar choices. It was regrettable, in my view, while Southenders went more for Independent Mick than Conservative Nick (likely, given Mick’s long standing connection with the town) the rest of Essex preferred Nick – sadly, on mainly party political grounds.
But I listened quietly and intently as to what Nick had to say and was riveted in a way that does not often happen. The big thing that came out it for me is coming to realise that the PCC has the power and the opportunity to make a significant difference on a vital part of British life – policing. While recognizing he would likely be offering a perspective that would put him in a good light, even though one his detractors might take issue with, my take is he did make a difference and much of it was for good. I liked the way he addressed issues like ethical police culture, smart leadership, domestic violence, trafficking, safeguarding, organized crime, coming to grips with multi-agency working and engaging with the public. Whether he could have done more to address the severe cutbacks in policing we have seen under his tenure, an emphasis away from community policing and not engaging enough with community leaders is open for debate. But overall, I think he has done well in a difficult job and I told him so. As for the significance of the role, there is no doubt in my mind, for one only has to look at recent South Yorkshire Police developments to see why this is so.
Regarding information on the candidates and some of the issues, the following has recently come to light (check out here). I would heartedly recommend it as at least a starting point for those who wish to vote responsibly. While it is a start, it is not enough, of course, to come to a fully rounded view given information on the candidates is hard to come by. I commend though BBC Essex for recently doing a radio hustings and I am sure those who listened would have found this helpful and the same I think applies to our local paper, Southend Echo, for their recent write up – but otherwise where else can we go other than trawl the Internet for information? The only leaflet I have got in my door from a candidate is that from Bob Spink. His record appears impressive but there seems little by way of what he would do especially given his criticism of his predecessor and that of the current Conservative government. “Open borders & Police cuts are wrong” may be his strapline but so what? I score the leaflet 5/10! I suspect though the Conservative candidate will get in. If he is the best candidate then that will be a good result but if it is on the basis that a Conservative county will tend to vote on party lines then that will be a bad one. As for the devil I know, Martin Terry, who when I blogged last time was the one I was more inclined to support, he has already lost three of my intelligent Southender friends, who might well have been voting for him, by leaving a question mark over his integrity, by not explaining what his “Zero Tolerance Policing ex Chief” label means.
I hope those who care to read this diatribe will take time to vote, and do so intelligently, having appraised the various factors, because the role is significant and our democracy will only work if you do!