john howson

Who I’m voting for as Thames Valley PCC


The Police and Crime Commissioner elections are upon us at last, and now in the absence of Jim Gordon on the slate (more’s the pity) we must decide who we’re going to vote for.

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.

Finchampstead Police Commissioner debate – a review


So, last night saw a very well-attended public debate between the six Police & Crime candidates at Finchampstead Memorial Hall, at which I was present. I was, actually, very impressed with the whole arrangement. I had feared initially that only the three main party candidates would be there, but fortunately all six were present. And the audience as well as being numerous (I’d estimate something like fifty in attendance) were also involved and engaged.

Each candidate was given ten minutes to give an initial pitch of who they are and what the want to do in the job, before the floor was opened to some very well-thought out and interesting questions.

A number of issues came up. One was cross-border co-operation between police forces, to which Cllr Stansfeld responded that he thought having a single figure at the top of the police force would help increase such co-operation. He seemed less than happy with my question, though, on the confusing differences between his various declarations of financial interests (which you can read more about here).

The issue which really got the debate going, however, was arming the police. Most of the candidates were very much against routine armament, with Tim Starkey saying that he would be willing to look into more widespread use of tasers. UKIP’s Barry Cooper, however, went against the grain and said that it was an operational matter (as opposed to political), that if Thames Valley Police wanted it he would say yes, and that he personally favoured routine armament.

Beyond that, there was a lot of concern from the audience along the lines of “Why do we need a Police & Crime Commissioner?” and “Who will hold them to account?“. To which the answers seemed to be that, to the first, the previous Police Authorities were indirectly elected and unaccountable, and that the Police Commissioner would answer only to the electorate and the indirectly elected Police and Crime Panels.

Tim Starkey was the only one who would admit that there were still pretty huge accountability problems with this system, and stressed (as I have) that although we may disagree with this policy, after 15th November we will have a PCC, and so need to make the best of it that we can.

So now I’ll summarise the performances of each of the candidates, and my thoughts on them.

  • Patience Awe (Independent) – Very disappointing, if I’m honest. Her main selling point seemed to be her IT experience, though its relevance to the role seems fairly limited. She repeated herself a lot, didn’t manage to say anything that someone else didn’t say better, and overall was a chore to listen to. I couldn’t discern any policy from her speech or from her leaflet.
  • Barry Cooper (UKIP) – One of the stronger candidates, actually. Mr Cooper actually seemed to have some idea what he’d do with the role, though in something of an embryonic stage. I disagree pretty strongly with his policies (particularly his attacks on “political correctness“, a line which always seems to mask something altogether darker and more sinister), but he came across at least as competent. Though his misstepped hard and lost the room with his comments over arming the police.
  • Geoffrey Howard (Independent) – The second independent came across reasonably well in his opening speech, though his only real qualification for the job seems to be serving as a magistrate. Like Patience, he was big on rhetoric and low on policy. I wish I could say more, but he uttered not a word beyond the initial speech. He seemed to forget he was there — and honestly, so did I.
  • John Howson (Liberal Democrat) – John came across as being fairly sensible. I don’t really believe he stands a chance, but for what it’s worth he didn’t seem to have any objectionable ideas. He didn’t have any leaflets at the debate though, so I can’t refer back to any particular policies, and none really were mentioned.
  • Anthony Stansfeld (Conservative) – Ah, the great Cllr Stansfeld. He played big on his experience in the army and as a business leader, and not being the Home Secretary’s candidate of choice. Which is a point in his favour, I suppose. But he was convinced that this role is definitely a positive thing, which put him at odds with many at the debate (and many of the electorate, I suspect). For such a major candidate, though, I am very much alarmed to have no idea what he would do if he wins.
  • Tim Starkey (Labour) – Personally, I think Tim came across best. You might say that I would say that, but he was frank about the position, and that although Labour voted against the policy it is going to happen, and actually mentioned specific areas of crime beyond what the candidates had all read off the internet about Finchampstead (burglaries and anti-social behaviour). He said he would focus on domestic violence, which is an important area which has been neglected by candidates and central government alike. And he was calm, personable and confident. Which always helps.

So there we go. I’m not going to pretend that I’m unbiased, but several other (neutral) people I spoke to thought Tim came across best. But what struck me most of all was just how poor a slate this is. The independents were useless, Cllr Stansfeld still seemed to me like he was already ordained as PCC, and it was a fight between Tim, Barry and John as to who was the most sensible person in the room (something which preferences for giving police guns didn’t help).

Those three were the only ones who had anything resembling policy, and were willing to contemplate a rise to the police precept (an element of council tax) in order to maintain essential services in the face of cuts. Overall, however, the candidates were big on vague statements and lacking on real ideas.

The elections are two weeks away now. As I’ve already said, they will be happening even if you think that the position is idiocy. So please, read my views, read the candidates’ websites (bare though some of them may be), and ask questions of the candidates on social media. Make your decision, and go down and have your say at the ballot box on November 15th.