Cambs police commissioner candidates starting to emerge

CAMBRIDGESHIRE’S first police and crime commissioner is likely to be a Conservative politician, it emerged this week.

So far, the Tories and Labour are the only political parties to have decided to field candidates. The Liberal Democrats have already taken the decision not to contest the election, and the UK Independence Party is still undecided.

No potential independent candidate for the new job has yet emerged.

The first elections will take place on November 15 – at an estimated cost of around �750,000 in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the area served by Cambridgeshire Constabulary. From 2016, subsequent elections will take place every four years in May.

But there seems to be little enthusiasm nationally for the principle of directly-elected police commissioners, according the former Cambridgeshire County Council leader Shona Johnstone, who is an early contender for the Tory nomination. Other Conservative candidates are expected to put themselves forward, and the party will make its choice in late spring.

The commissioner will have responsibility for cutting crime, setting the annual force budget, hiring – and possibly firing – the chief constable, and consulting with victims on policing priorities. He or she will not be responsible for running the police, but will act as the voice of the local people and hold the police to account.

The move follows the passing of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act last year and has generated criticism from many quarters. Lord (formerly Sir Ian) Blair, said the plans were a “completely terrible idea”, while others have condemned the national �125million cost of holding the elections.

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Ruth Rogers, chairman of the soon-to-be-decommissioned Cambridgeshire Police Authority said: “A low turnout is one of the real concerns. People have never voted on this before. Publicity now is really helpful and will hopefully encourage people to go out and vote.

“As an authority, we didn’t take a particular stance on it; we felt that there were some advantages and, possibly, some disadvantages as well. If you believe in democracy you can’t ignore that this person will be democratically elected.”

There also fears that the job, which in Cambridgeshire could come with a �70,000 salary, will be too big for just one person. Currently, there are 17 members of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority.

Mrs Rogers said: “Replacing 17 people with one person, consulting with victims and consulting with the public in general, is a major job. It is going to be a lot of work.”

Two of her predecessors as chairman also expressed doubts. Michael Williamson, from Needingworth, said the police authority principle had worked well in Cambridgeshire.

And Keith Walters, from Needingworth and a long-serving Tory county council leader, feared US-style clashes between policing and politics.

Mr Walters, who ruled himself out as a candidate, is not a fan of the principle. “Across the political parties no one who has been involved in policing is keen on this as an idea. It has all the hallmarks of a good headline not thought through properly.

“It’s all going to get political, which is the one thing police authorities were not. Look at America. Policing priorities get distorted when there’s an election on the horizon.”

The Lib Dems agree. Agent Martin Land said: “We don’t think it should be political, so we don’t intend to stand. Policing must be by consent, and I don’t think people consent to having politicians running the police. If we must have a directly-elected police commissioner, it should be someone who is independent, perhaps someone with good ideas who has served on the police authority in the past.

Labour nominations have closed, and a candidate will be chosen in May, Huntingdon Constituency Labour Party secretary Dave King said.

And UKIP’s Peter Reeve said the party would support a candidate but had not yet decided whether ‘UKIP-branded’ or independent. The Electoral Commission seemed to be unclear about what the rules would be for the poll, including whether there would be money for election addresses.

Nor are the electoral arrangements completely clear, although votes will be counted by district and unitary council area, as in European polls, Huntingdonshire’s elections manager Laura Locke said. Ballots will have to be verified by district and would be counted either locally or all together in Soham. Voters will be asked to specify first and second choices from the candidates.

If the results of recent local and general elections are reflected in November’s poll, whoever the Tories choose looks set to win - unless a high-profile independent candidate emerges.