On 15th November there will be an election for a Police and Crime Commissioner for each police force area. On the same date there will almost certainly be a by-election in Corby. Both of these contests will be closely watched by the media and could point the way towards the next general election, which will almost certainly be held in 2015.
I spent 7 years growing up in Northamptonshire. The town of Corby is a former steel making centre, where many of the residents are of Scottish descent, having moved here when the steelworks opened. The town in solidly Labour supporting in the urban Scottish manner. It is surrounded by some of the loveliest small towns and villages in England. They tend to vote Conservative. But the seat is a genuine marginal, and, given that we are in the middle of a Parliament, then if Labour cannot win it will be a disaster for Ed Miliband and his team. The Coalition has had to take a number of tough decisions and the public has not yet felt the benefit of them. The former MP abandoned her post having decided during her term to marry someone whose life was in New York. I became aware of Louise Bagshawe, as she then was, when I was a peripheral member of the Oxford Union and she was an officer. She has never quite been able to decide whether she would prefer to be a pillar of the Establishment or a rock chick and has learned that it is very difficult to be both at the same time. The Conservatives have selected Christine Emmett as our candidate. She was a finalist when we selected Dominic Raab as our Parliamentary candidate and has a good track record as a campaigner. She will give Labour a good run for their money.
The PCC election is a different ball game. Surrey is reliably Conservative supporting and therefore our candidate Julie Iles will probably start as favourite. I am all in favour of placing the police under the guidance of an individual who has been elected to represent the local community and who can ensure that the force’s priorities mirror those of the public. I am however disappointed that all the major political parties have decided to make these elections a party political contest. I am all in favour of national parties being represented in local authorites – that will come as no surprise – because local authorities are Westminster in microcosm and the public can elect individuals knowing generally what the principles are for which they stand. But a police commissioner has a clear and narrow remit: “the core functions of Police and Crime Commissioners will be to secure the maintenance of an efficient and effective police force within their area, and to hold the Chief Constable to account for the delivery of the police and crime plan. Police and Crime Commissioners will be charged with holding the police fund (from which all policing of the area is financed) and raising the local policing precept from council tax.Police and Crime Commissioners will also be responsible for the appointment, suspension and dismissal of the Chief Constable.”
That is not a general political remit. And whilst I would of course argue that Conservatives are more likely than other parties to encourage policing which is responsive to local needs rather than furthering a wider social agenda, it does not follow that the Conservative candidate will always be the best placed to give leadership in such a narrow field. This not just another election.