Whether we agree or disagree on the need for such positions, one thing everyone will agree on is the importance of the police to the public, and that November’s elections usher in the single biggest change to policing accountability for nearly a century.
Another point of agreement for those of us with doubts about police and crime commissioners must be that November’s elections are a golden opportunity for campaigning, and for Labour to canvass actively in new and unexpected parts of the country.
This campaign is unique, as to succeed Labour must look beyond its areas of core support. In Colchester – an archetypal Third Place First constituency – we plan to use the PCC campaign to make inroads into parts of the town that have been left virtually untouched by Labour election activity. In effect, November’s campaign gives us a chance to establish a base in areas we could not normally get to. Even for small CLPs such as mine, members are keen to get out on the doorstep and try new campaign techniques in what they see as a dry run for next May’s Essex County Council elections.
But one thing I have discovered so far is that this is far from a narrow focused campaign. While standing to be Labour’s candidate for Essex police and crime commissioner, even I was surprised by the diverse areas and breadth of issues facing policing in my home county. Essex Police is one of the largest forces outside the metropolitan areas; it contains large urban town and remote rural community; has high centres of elderly populations and college and university centres as well as covering the UK border with its coastline. In addition, Essex is home to two major ports, an army base and London Stansted Airport.
While local issues will shape many individual police commissioner campaigns up and down the country, we must not lose sight – or indeed forget – our own legacy we have on tackling crime and policing. I am proud that when the Labour government left office, we had 17,000 more police officers on our streets; that recorded crime had fallen by 43 per cent and that fear amongst the public at being a victim of crime was at a 30-year low. Today, that legacy is under threat and collectively, we must campaign on a commitment to build on Labour’s record in tackling crime and antisocial behaviour and continuing the downward trend in crime statistics.
While Labour has chosen well in selecting its police commissioner candidates, I had personally hoped to see a greater inclusion of younger people, especially as our candidates. Indeed, that was one of the reasons I opted to stand for the Essex selection. Young people are affected by crime as much as they are the perpetrators of it, and as such a commissioner with whom young people can identify is key to tackling and reducing levels of crime amongst young people. Equally, I have always felt that those young people who are the victims of crime – in whatever form – may have more faith in the police and criminal justice system with the involvement of someone closer to their peer group.
Through my own interest in youth justice, I’ve seen how involving young people in local crime and disorder matters works. Many years ago, as chair of the Tendring Youth Forum, I worked with local agencies to introduce a ‘youth shelter’ scheme in north Essex. The scheme gave young people a safe place to gather in a community setting, reducing police intervention on local high streets and reassuring local communities.
The very mix of issues and the challenges that face modern policing mean that Labour’s police commissioner candidates need to appeal to, and seek support from, voters outside of Labour’s core supporter base. We must use November’s elections – however unwelcome they may be – to our advantage. I am confident that even here in Essex, we can establish fresh support in some new, and maybe surprising, places.
Jordan Newell is chair of Colchester Labour party. He tweets @JordanNewell
Photo: Metropolitan Police
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