All posts tagged 'Kent-police-commissioner'

How the race to become Kent's first elected police commissioner was won...and lost

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, November 18 2012

Conventional wisdom has it that elections are lost rather than won. In the case of the race to become the county's first elected police commissioner, it was a case of both.

Ann Barnes, an independent, deftly exploited the public unease that there was something wrong about the idea of having a party politician in charge of policing - even in a strategic role - and exploited it for all it was worth. She was aided by the fact that the issue of policing independence was also dominating campaigns elsewhere and media coverage duly reflected that. It is worth noting that she was not the only independent voted in on Friday - five others were, too.

The campaign never really got into the issues that it probably ought to have been about - which candidate had the best and most credible manifesto for cutting crime and making our towns and villages safer.

To the extent that it did, all six candidates pretty much said the same thing - more visible policing, a crackdown on drug dealers, better value for money etc - leaving voters, already perplexed at the whole concept, wondering just what the difference was between them in any case.

For the Conservative team in Kent - who I am told knew on Thursday they had lost and had tipped off Central Office to tell them so - the frustration was that they were seen as the party that was responsible for "politicising" the police and were tainted by association, no matter how many times Craig Mackinlay, who deserves credit for accepting defeat graciously,  declared he was his own man.

Still, it was a bitter defeat for the Conservatives, who tried unsuccessfully to portray Ann Barnes as a Liberal Democrat in disguise and actually fought a reasonably solid and clear campaign.

But they knew that even among their own supporters, there was disquiet about the idea and plenty chose not to vote or if they did, either backed Ann Barnes or chose her as their second candidate - or simply stayed at home.

Ann Barnes' campaign worked because it struck a chord with people and that chord kept playing throughout the entire campaign. It was a simple, coherent message and she was even able to avoid too much focus on the fact that she had, as chairman of the police authority, spoken out against the whole idea.

Of course, winning the election is one thing. She now has the arguably much more important job of implementing her crime plan and dealing with the shrinking police budget. Overshadowing that is the story of the arrests of five officers facing accusations of manipulating crime figures.

It will not be easy and as a candidate who has vowed not to countenance more cuts to the budget, she may face some awkward decisions. One of the problems with commissioners is that they will be balancing want against need in a much more direct fashion than the appointed police authorities.

And it would be naive to expect any commissioner not to have one eye on their popularity with the public as their term of office gets underway. They know, even if they are independent, that come the next election, they will be judged on results and whether crime has been cut.

The debate about politicising the police will no longer have quite the resonance it did this time round.

Like it or not, Ann Barnes will be just as much a political figure as anyone who comes from a mainstream party political background.

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Categories: Conservatives | Politics

Why the argument over the politicisation of policing won't determine who becomes the Kent police commissioner

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, November 7 2012

It would be overstating matters to say that there has been a sudden rush of interest in the race to become Kent's first-directly elected police commissioner. I certainly don't detect any Obama type bounce.

Voters will go to the polls next Thursday and there remains a fear the turnout will be dismal - possibly as low as 15%.

That is not to say people are uninterested in the issue of crime and policing.

It is one of the ironies of the government's flagship reform that public apathy towards a new generation of elected police chiefs is in direct contrast to polling which consistently makes crime - and fear of crime - a major pre-occpuation of voters.

The problem with the election is that when you examine the manifestos and policy pledges of the six candidates standing, there isn't an awful lot that separates them.

They all believe in giving greater support to victims. All - to varying degrees - oppose creeping privatisation. All want to give the criminal fraternity a harder time; all believe in the importance of visible policing; they all want to improve social cohesion. And so on.

It's as bland a set of commitments as the bowls of rice contestants in "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!" face over the coming weeks.

The candidates were given a chance to air their views and proposals at a hustings meeting at the University of Kent's Medway campus last night.

During the evening, someone tweeted: "I promise to prioritorise visible policing and get tough on crime. Not just tough, zero tolerance tough...have I won yet?"

Sarcastic, yes but they have a point.

The specific policy pledges, such as they are, have often been eclipsed by soundbite politics in which, it seems to me, the candidates have been more inclined to talk in generalities about their aims and aspirations and have been a little fearful of being too specific.

Partly, this is a reflection of the fact that the commissioner has a strategic rather than operational role and candidates are wary of stepping into territory where they might be regarded as interfering in day-to-day policing.

While they understand this, in general the public don't - or are at least confused.

At the hustings meeting, there was a telling moment when the candidates were asked to identify a single strategy proposal for bringing down crime that did not involve the words "zero tolerance". The answers were as woolly as a flock of Romney Marsh sheep.

Which brings me to the issue that has set a few sparks flying - the debate about the danger of policing becoming politicised by commissioners.

Actually, the argument has been about the party politicisation of policing, which is not exactly the same thing. Even independent candidates will become - if they win - "political" figures, albeit under a non-party political banner.

Some people are genuinely concerned about this and contend that it will be the issue that determines the outcome.

There's an instinctive unease among many about the idea of police control being vested in a politician. (It reminds me of the quote about education being too important to allow politicians to be involved).

Ann Barnes, who is one of the leading independent candidates, has made the issue the centrepiece of her campaign.

The campaign literature of Dai Liyanage, another independent, is headed "Not Just Another Political Puppet."

But is this an issue which has the resonance on the doorstep some think it has?

At the hustings meeting, it was striking that the audience didn't actually seem to care terribly much about the candidates' political colours.

The questions they asked were not party political ones but focused on what would be done, for example, to tackle anti-social behaviour or drug dealing.

In other words, who would do the best job to make our towns and villages safe?

And that, it seems to me, is what the election should ultimately be about.


ONE of the complaints made about the election is that not enough has been done to publicise it. Public disengagement has certainly been an issue.

So, why has the Police Area Returning Officer Nadeem Aziz decreed that the media are to be banned from using social media like Twitter and Facebook to report from the election count at Dover town hall?

To call it bizarre is an under-statement and there are questions about whether it as any legal force, especially when these are the ways in which many people now expect to get news.

We are challenging the ban and so too are some of the candidates and their agents. Let's hope commonsense prevails.


The six candidates standing in the election have, as a result of a challenge by a member of the audience at the hustings meeting, agreed to declare the donations and expenses of their campaign's before polling day. (Electoral law means they don't have to until after the election)

We'll be publishing all these when we get them all.


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Categories: Politics

Gloves come off in police commissioner race.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, August 15 2012

There hasn't been much by way of excitement in the race to become Kent's first elected police commissioner. But after a relatively lacklustre start, it seems the gloves are coming off as rival candidates square up to one another.

The arrival of the forthright and uncompromising former Kent Police Authority chairman Ann Barnes as a candidate has undoubtedly stirred things up.

This week, she garnered some healthy media interest after leading a delegation of independent candidates to Downing Street to take issue with the Home Office rules that mean would-be commissioners won't get a 'free' mail shot to outline their manifesto pledges to voters.

It was a deftly executed PR move - although I doubt the specific issue is one that many people are terribly exercised about.

The truth is most voters pay very little attention to such mailshots and many more get thrown in the bin or used for the cat litter tray than are carefully read by people before they venture out to the polling station.

What was interesting was the reaction her intervention prompted from the Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay, who issued a lengthy statement to the media saying the costs of allowing an election address would be enough to pay for 40 front-line police officers.

His statement was more intriguing for another reason. In it, he speculated about the independent nature of Mrs Barnes' candidacy, stating "it would appear that many declared independent candidates are far from being so."

What could he possibly mean? Well, here is the rest of what he had to say:

"I make no obvious connection at this stage but given that Mrs Barnes’ campaign team is substantially made up of Lib Dems, with a campaign manager who has stood unsuccessfully three times in Parliamentary elections for the Lib Dems, I shall let the public decide whether Kent Lib Dems have found their true candidate hidden behind an independent facade and are now expecting Kent taxpayers to spread their message."

Mrs Barnes’ campaign is being masterminded by Peter Carroll, who stood twice in Folkestone and Hythe and once in Maidstone as a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate.

The Lib Dems are not fielding a candidate and behind the scenes, the Conservatives appear to think that it could be a useful strategy to plant in peoples' minds the idea that Mrs Barnes, if not an out-and-out Lib Dem is effectively their candidate.

Mrs Barnes' campaign team have decided to say nothing in response to these comments by Mr Mackinlay but are not as upset as you may think.

The view is that it shows the Conservative camp is rattled and if their line of attack means they keep Mrs Barnes' profile up and help establish her as a viable independent candidate, it is all grist to the mill.

Still, these are skirmishes in the phoney war.

What really matters is what the candidates intend to do if they become police commissioner. If they persist in tit-for-tat politicking, they may find voter disinterest is even worse than some fear come the actual election in November.

Read our special report on the race to become Kent Police Commissioner here

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Another runner on the blocks to become Kent's first elected police chief. Plus: Kent County Council's Birds Eye budget

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, July 24 2012

Anyone who has come across Ann Barnes will know her as someone who isn't afraid to speak her mind and has fairly forthright views.  (A bit like Ann Widdecombe).

Among the subjects that she has not been backward in coming forward on is the government's plans for elected police commissioners. And the policy is not one she has been enthused about - until now.

Long before yesterday's official launch of her campaign to become Kent's first elected police commissioner, plenty of people were speculating that she might put her name in the hat but she steadfastly refused to say she would.

So, what has changed her mind?

According to Ann, there is no inconsistency in her misgivings about the policy and her candidacy - "we are where we are" is how she puts it - but it is the twin fears about the police coming under increasing political control and greater privatisation that convinced her to put her name in the frame.

Interestingly, I'm told she did receive overtures from at least one political party a while ago but is said to have declined.

She is undoubtedly one of the more credible independent candidates on the starting blocks.

It is an astute move to bring in the energetic Peter Carroll to mastermind her campaign - the man who gave Ann Helen Grant a close run at the last general election as a Lib Dem candidate and who can list successes with Gurkhas and the Fair Fuel among notable campaigns.

But like all independent candidates, she will not have the advantage of a party machine behind her and be able to call on members and activists to post letters and knock on doors. In a county as large as Kent, that will prove a challenge although it is one she seems to relish.

Then there is the issue of her profile. She is well known among the political establishment as the long-standing chair of the Kent Police Authority, which is not to be sniffed at. But beyond the corridors of power and Kent Police HQ?

Still, her presence in the contest will make it infinitely more interesting and stands to make it less likely to become a run-off between the two main party candidates - Conservative Craig Mackinlay and Labour's Harriet Yeo.


It looks like we won't have to wait too long before we find out how KCC's Conservative leadership intends to save £100m out of next year's budget. Unlike previous years, the budget proposals are to be published in September - not December of January. Why?

Well, you could call me an old cynic but getting bad news out of the way early, especially in an election year, is a tried and trusted political ploy.

Mind you, judging by the tit bits from leader Paul Carter at last week's full council meeting, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it will be a vote winner rather than a vote loser.

The spin doctors have been at work too - it seems the theme will be based around four 'Ps' - partnership, productivity, procurement and prevention (that last one is not about preventing votes being lost, by the way.)

And the fifth 'P' will be - roll of drums - the 'people of Kent.' Clever, eh?

So, what shall we call it? With all these 'p's around, I rather like the idea of it being the Birds Eye budget.



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Categories: Politics

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