I’ve already made up my mind. In fact, I decided in the aftermath of the public debate in Finchampstead. So to help anyone who us still undecided, I’m going to share my choices and the reasoning behind them.
Just as a note: PCCs will be elected by a supplementary vote system, meaning you can vote for a first and second preference (if no candidate achieves 50% of first preferences, all the top two go through to the next stage, and the second preferences of the rest of the candidate’s supporters are distributed). Like many other supporters of AV in 2011, I will be using both votes.
So, in reverse order, my thoughts on each candidate, culminating in the two I’m voting for:
Patience Awe, one of the two independent candidates, was supremely unimpressive, and has been so throughout the campaign. She has systematically failed to give any reason to vote for her, barring her IT experience. That is, to me, not sufficient reason to warrant giving her my vote, and I do not feel policing would be safe in her hands. I will not be voting for Patience.
Geoffrey Howard is the other independent, and although he has a very long CV, he has also been less than impressive. His primary selling point seems to be that he is a magistrate (both laudable and relevant) and that he is an independent candidate. But Mr Howard has left off that he has previously been a member of three political parties, and aside from rhetoric seems to have few ideas for the role. At the Finchampstead debate, he did not contribute beyond an opening statement – I’m not sure how that fits with his pledge to “make the role accountable to the public”. I will not be voting for Geoffrey.
(This is a shame. I do not believe that the PCC role should be party political, and thus to have no independent candidates of merit is another nail in the coffin of the policy)
Anthony Stansfeld, as regular readers of my blog will know, is the Conservative Party candidate. He has a very impressive business and army CV, and has served on the Police Authority — even if his claims about his achievements in that position feel a bit far-fetched. I don’t agree with his politics, though I know there are many who will, but for me it’s his cavalier attitude to transparency that is most troubling. Questions still remain over his declared interests, which he has repeatedly failed to clear up despite opportunities to do so. I will not be voting for Anthony.
Barry Cooper, the UKIP candidate, is the surprising and alarming entry at third place on my rundown. First off, I disagree with UKIP’s reactionary and diversive politics more even than the Conservatives. But Barry did present himself as at least having some clue what the role would entail and what he’d do with it. He was articulate and confident, and in the end it is only his politics and his views on police armament which put me off. I will not be voting for Barry.
John Howson is the Liberal Democrat candidate. Many other Labour supporters (as well as independent voters) have been aghast at the idea of voting for a Lib Dem after all the damage that they’re doing in government. I find it a touch distasteful too, but I have two votes and that’s two opportunities to deny the role to a right-wing candidate who would pursue policies I disagree with intensely. At Finchampstead, John was imaginative, confident and exuded the kind of competence I believe essential to this role. I will be giving my second preference to John.
Which leaves only the Labour candidate, Tim Starkey. I know that most readers will be entirely unsurprised at my support for him, but truthfully he has it because he has convinced me that he is the best man for the job. I don’t like the idea of PCCs, and had one of them been best for the job I would have had no qualms about voting for an independent. But Tim has the experience of the justice system and victims of crime necessary to make the best of this role, and has shown that he has the policy ideas to improve policing in the Thames Valley. In particular, he has been the only one to focus on lesser noticed crimes like domestic violence. I will be giving my first preference to Tim.
So there you have it. Whether you’re surprised or not, those are my choices and the reasons behind them. I urge voters in the Thames Valley to use the final few days before the vote to read up on the candidates, and put questions to them if possible. Above all, I urge all of you to go out and vote on Thursday. Like it or not, Police and Crime Commissioners are happening. Abstention is only abdication of your choice and responsibility.