In November 2012, millions of people will get the chance to vote for the new police and crime commissioner posts across England and Wales. Ever since it was obvious that the posts would become established, once the legislation was passed, I have argued that Labour should stand credible candidates for each post. These are big, important jobs, responsible for millions of pounds of public money. More importantly, they can work with chief constables to set the strategic priorities for police forces. I have been pleased in recent weeks to see that some big Labour beasts have expressed an interest in standing for the posts, such as Alun Michael MP in south Wales. The estimable Michael Crick at Channel 4 News has a tally of runners and riders from all parties and none here.
But in recent days I have come to a big decision. I have decided to seek nomination to be Labour’s candidate in the county of Sussex, where I have my family home. It’s fun being a commentator. I enjoy writing columns for Progress, LabourList and the odd newspaper, and being asked on occasion onto the radio and TV. I enjoy being a political adviser too. It’s rewarding to work in parliament, helping Labour MPs with their campaigns and causes. I enjoy being an active member of Eastbourne constituency Labour party in my home town. But there comes a time to put your money where your mouth is, and stand for office yourself.
It’s a decade since I stood as Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Lewes, in East Sussex. The thrust of my campaign was that the Liberal Democrat candidate was no better than a Tory (not an argument that washed with the locals). He is now a minister in the Tory-led government, responsible for cuts to sure starts, charities and benefits for disabled people. It’s 15 years since I first stood in Billericay, a seat which saw a 17.6 per cent swing from Tory to Labour. But aside from having my name on council election ballot papers, I have enjoyed contributing to political life in a non-elected capacity.
Why am I standing?
Well, it’s early days. The NEC and regional board of the Labour party will shortlist candidates. Perhaps they won’t think I’m suitable to seek selection. Then there’s a contest between the shortlisted candidates, with a postal ballot of all members at the same time as the NEC postal ballot. That will give Labour’s candidates a seven-month campaign to take their case to the people of their constabularies.
I see the elections as the perfect opportunity to build Labour’s profile and electoral support. In a county like Sussex, the candidate should use the platform to help Labour teams in Brighton, Hove, Hastings and Crawley, where we could win parliamentary seats next time. But they should also be prepared to campaign in areas without Labour representation, in the smaller towns and villages where Labour seldom gets much of a look-in. This would give a boost to local CLPs and branches, and to parliamentary candidates such as Sarah Owen in Hastings and Rye.
If selected, I want to campaign on three areas:
First, the role of police and crime commissioner should be primarily a champion for the victims of crime. I’ve been the victim of a serious crime. Being a victim is bad enough, but often the experience is made worse by how victims are treated afterwards. The Labour candidates should be meeting with victims’ groups, and speaking to the community about how the police and courts system should respect and support victims of crime. The Labour candidate should be working with local groups to tackle antisocial behaviour as well as serious crime.
Second, I want to campaign to highlight hate crime, and ‘hidden’ crimes such as domestic violence. Hate crime is a serious issue throughout Sussex. Members of the LGBT community face harassment and violence, even in the cities like Brighton. Disabled people are attacked and harassed. BAME communities face racism and discrimination. Sussex Police are reviewing their policy on hate crime, and more can be done to protect minority groups, prosecute criminals, and protect victims.
Third, the role of a Labour police and crime commissioner should be to ensure that the Tory-Lib Dem cuts don’t fall on the most vulnerable. No police commissioner can magic more money from the government. But a Labour one should be able to manage budgets sensitively, with the most vulnerable groups in mind. And always remind people that it is the central government making the cuts to police force budgets in the first place.
This kind of agenda is a distinctly Labour agenda: strong on values, and on the side of citizens, not the vested interests. In Sussex, the Tories are likely to stand the Conservative East Sussex county council leader. He’s a retired stockbroker, and a current member of the police authority. He represents right-of-centre ‘business-as-usual’. The Lib Dems are waiting to see if an independent candidate stands. But what if a BNP candidate stands? The role of a Labour candidate will be to mobilise the forces of the trade unions, anti-racist groups, and community organisations to see off a populist fascist threat.
I hope that Labour members in every area get a good spread of candidates to choose from. I hope branches will invite candidates to speak, meet members, and discuss their campaign plans. If you live in Sussex, and would like to invite me to address your branch, I would be happy to come, either by myself or alongside other candidates.
These elections are a great opportunity for the Labour party. We need lively campaigns and strong messages. These are big roles, and need big candidates to fight for them.
You can email me on email@example.com if you’d like to know more about my campaign to become Labour’s candidate for police commissioner in Sussex.
Paul Richards writes a weekly column for Progress, Paul’s week in politics
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