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

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

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Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis

News, views, gossip and analysis on Kent's political scene, from County Hall to Westminster.

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