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.