Uncertainty still hangs over police chief poll

WITH just six months to go before elections take place for elected police and crime commissioners, no candidates have been named in Cambridgeshire, and the Government has still not said what the rules will be.

Polling is due to take place on November, but the Electoral Commission is concerned that secondary legislation to set out the rules on conduct of elections and on campaign spending are yet to be put in place.

No candidates for the Cambridgeshire post have yet been announced, the Liberal Democrats have said they will not field a candidate on principle, and other parties are divided on the propriety of putting up party nominees.

So far, the Tories and Labour are the only political parties to have decided to field candidates, though neither has declared a selection. The Liberal Democrats have already taken the decision not to contest the election, and the UK Independence Party is still undecided about whether to put forward a nominee or back an independent.

A few potential independent candidates for the new job have emerged, but there is no process for them to follow.

Sir John Major’s former constituency agent, Sir Peter Brown, agrees with the Liberal Democrats. He told The Hunts Post recently: “I don’t think party politics should have any place in that sort of activity. The thought of party hacks putting up for these positions frightens me.”

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

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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. Given the enthusiasm for elected mayors in the May 3 elections, she may well have a point.

Other Conservative candidates have put themselves forward, and the party will make its choice in late spring.

The present chairman of Cambridgeshire Police Authority, Ruth Rogers, has said she would throw her hat into the ring as a contender for the Labour nomination.

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.

Nor are the electoral arrangements yet 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.

The Electoral Commission intends to send a booklet about the elections to every household in the country, but cannot prepare it until the Home Office sorts out the details.

A spokesman said: “Without clear processes and rules in place in sufficient time, trust and confidence in the system may be called into question, not only by those who want to stand but also by voters.”