Building a campaign for real politics


I had a debate with a political activist on twitter the other day. Except he would not describe himself as political or probably an activist. @coastaljoe1 says of himself “I just love the Sea & our environment. Closing 50% UK Coastguard Stations disgraceful, will fight to stop this, HELP if you can! I have no connection 2 HMCG”. I sought to persuade him that his campaign is political. He says not.

On ‘Red Thursday’ on May 3rd, the vast majority of those entitled to vote did not. Many people – perhaps enough to have delivered a different result for the London Mayoralty – used their second preference vote in a way that made not one jot of difference to the overall result. Only 26% of voters elected the new Mayor of Salford.

On Thursday May 10th, 35,000+ police officers, staff, family, friends and supporters marched through London against draconian cuts to policing, the imminent threat of privatisation and changes to terms & conditions that could mean many people losing several thousands of pounds in pay each year. Historic protections against compulsory redundancy are under threat from the recommendations contained in reports by Tom Winsor which the Home Secretary is currently considering. Many, perhaps most, of those marching avowedly say that their campaign is not political and that politics should be kept out of policing.

How did we get to here?

I suspect that many people will agree with my view that there has been an insidious and stealthy campaign for years, decades even, to paint all politicians as being out of touch obsessives whose only interests are scoring points off the other parties & feathering their own nests.

Some media sources take the lead on this and provide an endless supply of celebrity fluff combined with outrage at yet another example of supposed town hall corruption. We have ‘non jobs of the week’ and the legion of examples of ‘political correctness gone mad’ etc. It is a pervasive and deliberate campaign to detach people from politics.

What can we do?

One option is to give up of course and point to a long term decline in voting and say that is just the way things are these days. Or we can just say no and decide to build and support a campaign for real politics.

By real politics (perhaps a little like real ale) I mean:

  • Politics that is brewed in small quantities not industrial vats of chemical spin
  • Politics that lives and breathes with the issues that matter to us and our neighbours in our everyday lives
  • Politics that understands traditions and history – and connections with the present
  • Politics that helps us all to understand how a decision in one place will affect those we love in the very near future
  • Politics that starts with conversations and debates on doorsteps, in pubs, cafes, school gates and front rooms – rather than broadcasts and leader articles

I am not claiming this to be my idea or even a new one but it is an idea that I am finding myself thinking about more and more at the moment.

As one of two people shortlisted to be Labour candidate for the Thames Valley Police & Crime Commissioner, I have been meeting with party members over the last few weeks. By the 31/5/12, I will have spoken at eight hustings meetings and had numerous other conversations on line and in real life about the politics of police strategy. We have had some brilliant debates and discussions. Naturally I hope to be selected. Either way, my aim will be to work with Labour Party members and supporters over coming months to build our campaign for the real politics around policing issues. It has to be real politics since the issues facing policing in Banbury are not the same as they are in Slough (for example) although they have much in common.

The introduction of Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) is not a model that we favoured: large amounts of money will be spent on an election in November and large dollops of power will placed in the hands of one individual. But we are where we are and to stand aside and allow Tories (or others) to walk into these new positions cannot an option.

We must stand and fight for our vision of policing and community safety. But moreover, we must stand, listen and have many conversations too.

Therefore we will be campaigning vigorously for good public service policing that is driven by the needs of communities rather than the pursuit of profit (which is still a growing threat given developments in Lincolnshire, West Midlands and Surrey – despite some supposed rowing back announcements by Chief Constables in recent days).

I have met several people already who say that party politics should not be involved in policing – including of course police officers who cannot join political parties. I counter by saying that decisions over scarce public resources or whether to outsource to the private sector are not just managerial decisions – they are already political – and will remain so.

So the task now is to build and build our campaign for real politics as preparation for the elections on November 15th and get people engaged now in considering what should be the direction of policing over the next 4 and more years. (There are many campaigning lessons to learn including those from this excellent article on LabourList from a short while ago.)

In this campaign for the November elections, perhaps more than many others, we will need to convince people that not only do our Labour politics have something to offer – but that politics itself is relevant to policing and to them. This is going to be a long campaign. The doorstep conversations need to begin now. We cannot leave it until after the Party conference, as I worry that some might be thinking.

I will be measuring our success in November by mainly, of course, how many Labour PCCs are elected… but also by how many more people are engaged and turn out to vote. Policing matters to local communities, to young communities, to marginalised communities, perhaps even to communities jaded with politics. We have an opportunity here not only to win, but to refresh politics and talk about why it matters.

Jon Harvey is a Buckingham Town Councillor and has been shortlisted to be the Labour candidate for the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner election

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