It was a surprise for many. Of the 54 candidates that stood as independents in 2012, 11 were elected – a one in five success rate. One of the most interesting aspects of the election was that the main political parties did not run huge campaigns for the PCC elections. Initially Labour were not going to field candidates, in favour of independent candidates, fearing doing so would politicise the police force. The party changed its mind and did fund candidates standing under a Labour banner. The Conservative Central Office did not fund candidates, although some local Conservative Associations did. The Liberal Democrats did not fund any candidates. Some candidates were only unofficially backed by a political party. The result was that in the PCC elections, independent candidates had as close to a level playing field as there has been in a UK election maybe in for centuries.
In 2012 even within party political ranks – there was awareness that a politicised police force would be bad news for both democracy and justice. Douglas Carswell MP – a Conservative politician at the time of the PCC elections before becoming a senior voice in UKIP – wrote on his blog: “I suspect there will be a strong appetite among voters for independent candidates - or at least independent-minded ones. Political parties should be wary of simply putting up party insiders for the role. They'd be wiser to either endorse a suitable independent contender - or hold an open primary contest of some sort to allow everyone a say over who gets to be the candidate.”
Police and Crime Commissioners were conceived to make the police more accountable and responsive to local communities. Their powers include: appointing chief constables of forces and dismissing them when necessary; holding the chief constable to account for the performance of a force's officers and staff; providing a link between the police and communities, which includes consulting local people, the council and other organisations; overseeing community safety and the reduction of crime, and ensuring value for money in policing; setting out a force's strategy and policing priorities through the Police and Crime Plan; setting out the force budget and community safety grants - taken together, the commissioners are responsible for £8bn of spending on police in England and Wales; reporting annually on progress.
The project has been thought of as so successful that there is a provision in The Policing and Crime Bill to enable PCCs to take on responsibilities for fire and rescue services and even create a single employer for the two services, provided a local case is made. They are becoming very powerful positions, meaning it’s more important that people elected to such positions work more for their constituents than for a political party.
The Independent Network supports independent candidates who can demonstrate their commitment to the Bell Principles. It is clear that for a Police and Crime Commissioner commitment to the Bell Principles – including to being guided by considered evidence, their real world experience and expertise, their constituencies and their consciences – will stand them in good stead to represent their local area with integrity and justice. The fear of electing a party political Police Commissioner is that they will follow their party’s policies before responding to their constituent’s crucial needs. The electorate needs help to avoid party political insiders ascending to the top job in police forces due to the resource benefits that the political parties offer. They need more independent candidates to stand so they have the choice to keep party politics out of police forces.
The Independent Network will support independent candidates standing in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections on 5th May 2016. If you wish to request endorsement, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org