PCC elections: Pulling out all the stops

The results are in and 41 Labour Police & Crime Candidates have been selected. (As some will have observed, I missed being selected by just 24 votes out of the 1100 cast. I was and am still gutted to have lost, especially by such a small margin. But…onwards and upwards: there is a big national and set of local campaigns to organise, fight and win. It is my intention to offer support in a variety of ways.)

Overall, these elections present three massive opportunities for Labour – no matter what the predictions might say (see Laura Wilkes’ excellent article):

1) We can win everywhere. These elections will be uniquely unique: the post of PCC is an entirely new position, we will be campaigning on a set of issues that touches people who are often very disaffected from politics, the ballot will use the supplementary vote and I think it is likely that that many of our opponents may simply not bother to vote/campaign. This is one of the key points I made during the selection process in Thames Valley – we must be in it to win it. No holding back, no doubt and total confidence that this is campaign worth winning for its own sake.

2) We can influence the debate. Policing is not just about numbers, although they are very, very important. It is about effective practice, integration of justice services, partnership working, citizen engagement, two way respect, the careful allocation of scarce resources and overall strategy – and many more things. We can raise the debate and challenge our opponents who may attempt to dum it down to being just about tough on crime and being more tough on crime. We have to have the courage to show the Tories (and their Lib Dem partners in power) that their simplistic Victorian narratives are about as subtle, effective and fair as their economic policies.

3) We can build Labour support for forthcoming elections. We have critical elections coming up in many areas next year – and obviously a very important one coming up in 2015 (or sooner hopefully!). We know that we have to connect with new and old Labour supporters everywhere. These elections give us an opportunity to campaign everywhere – and build support everywhere. If there was an election designed to implement Refounding Labour – this is it.

In my opinion, to achieve this, a set of six key ingredients will need to be put in place:

a)      The selected candidates need to capitalise quickly upon the Labour support they have received in the selection ballots and build robust momentum. This means connecting with constituency parties, larger branches and trade unions now. (I wrote about the importance of building trade union support back in February and I note this great new article by Daniel Zeichner on a similar theme) I would imagine, for example, that Tim has already written to the 21 constituency parties in Thames Valley and the 4 Trades councils in Reading, Slough, Oxford and Milton Keynes.

b)      We need to establish a wide and interactive media base as soon as possible, at national, regional and local levels. This media base needs to incorporate social media as well the standard media. All Labour PCC candidates need to have a presence on Twitter and Facebook, at the very least, in my opinion. Most local newspapers have facilities to comment on stories on the net, as well as write the more traditional ‘letters to the editor’. I would expect to see candidates exploiting these options widely.

c)       I believe that we have much to gain (including winning the ballots on 15/11/12) by building connections with a whole range of social & community networks representing people who have a keen interest in all policing and criminal justice matters. Naturally there are the statutory agencies to make contact with (though they may be a little cautious due to ‘balance’) as well as key third sector ones as well – including Victim Support naturally. These connections will provide good news stories as well as build awareness amongst the staff and service users of such agencies (all potential supporters and Labour voters). There are others too including local community groups, LGBT groups, young people’s organisations (such as Scouts, Woodcraft Folk, Youth councils etc), women’s groups and issue campaigning organisations (National Trust, RSPB, RSPCA etc?). My view was and remains that campaigning for these PCC positions is more than a full time job for the next five months.

d)      Every PCC ‘constituency’ now needs a new representative Labour Party body to coordinate the campaign, agree the local policies on which to campaign, support the candidate, raise campaign funds (not least the £5k for the election deposit), appoint an Agent (perhaps even an Agent team?) and negotiate support from the Regional Offices / national Party. In Thames Valley, I would be proposing a body made up of two delegates from each constituency.

e)      A campaign plan to prioritise all this effort so that the most is made of the precious resources available to the party (money, time and motivation). It would seem that only a minority of Labour Party members took time to vote in the PCC selection ballots. Many more are going to have to be involved in the campaign for the PCCs to win in more than the ‘safe’ areas. Even in the ‘safe’ areas, there is no certainty as Laura Wilkes has pointed out. Such a plan, with a range of people attached to all the actions (the PCC candidate whilst doing the most – cannot be expected to do it all!) is critical. I wrote to the local Police Authority a few weeks ago suggesting that they organise ‘shell’ hustings meetings now for the six weeks prior to the election so that all candidates will have a series of public meetings in this critical period. I have not heard back from them yet. I believe this is an issue that needs pursuing.

f)       And leadership will be the theme that will make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful campaign. 41 people have been elected to lead their local parties through this campaign over the next five months. The campaign will be gruelling and possibly more exposed than many other previous ones. Not only will the candidates have to present a persuasive Labour campaign to very large constituencies, they will also have to convince people that Labour has no intention of politicising policing while running a political campaign (read ‘The Confession’ by John Grisham for a chilling description of what a politicised police service could be like), whilst at the same time asking people to come out and vote for a position that we do not agree with… no easy task! (See my recent article in the Guardian about the 13 more questions that PCC candidates may well face). Added to this will be the series of policing and criminal justice matters that will emerge over coming months including the policing of the Olympics, summer disturbances that may happen again, the appointment of the Chief HMI for Constabularies etc etc… the candidates will need to coordinate their views and announcements on all these with the Centre. I hope that the Labour Party nationally, regionally and locally will pull out all the stops to support (and challenge sometimes too) these 41 candidates.

But these are my six ideas – what else do you think need to be in place so that Labour can win (in all possible ways) from the PCC campaigns?

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