While the leadership is considering the refounding (or possibly confounding) of democracy in the party, the Conservatives are busy creating more elections. If they can hold the coalition together long enough to get the legislation through, Britain will be electing Police Commissioners for the first time this spring.
As a thoroughly illiberal idea – a single person elected by a majority has no need to take minority considerations into account – it’s likely to stimulate some LibDem rebellion but probably not enough to stop the legislation.
As far as I know there’s no reference to these elections in the rule changes being proposed at conference this year and there are some serious questions for the party to answer.
Firstly, there is the issue of whether we should run candidates at all. This is a challenge because as soon as the Conservatives start running candidates, we’ll have to do so or we will be accused of having no interest in “Law and Order” – something that will bite us in other elections.
Secondly, we have to give some thought to the kinds of people we would want to present as candidates. We could restrict ourselves to candidates who have experience in the world of criminal justice; we almost certainly have enough members from the police, military, probation and prison services. But is it right to exclude people with other experiences to offer? Someone perhaps with experience of social services or education might also have a lot to offer.
There is also the issue of how we campaign. Do we present a national policing manifesto, on which our candidates are expected to deliver? Or do we leave it to local parties what there local manifesto should be?
The statements in the refounding Labour documents are quite floaty and meaningless in places. There’s lots of stuff about reaching out to the wider public, but we won’t know what it all means until the proposed rule changes are published. There is the possibility that elected police commissioners give us an opportunity to experiment with Labour procedures (in the absence of any rules) to see how far we can reach out.
Strategically, Labour has always had to work hard to be seen as competent on law and order, something that is unlikely to reflect well in policing elections. There is the prospect that Tory areas will elect Tory commissioners and Labour and LibDem areas will be seen as targets for independents.
Perhaps with policing elections Labour should adopt a more novel approach. I’d like to know what you think of this proposal.
- Labour nationally (*England-wide) adopts a policing manifesto, dovetailing the expectations of Police Commissioners with those of Local Authorities and the parliamentary party.
- Within police commissioner boundaries, local parties consult internally and externally to create a local “white paper” on local priorities for the police.
- Instead of selecting a candidate exclusively from within the party, the local Labour Party invites potential candidates to apply for Labour endorsement. Labour endorsement should take the form of providing defined campaign resources and the support of activists to one candidate. Access to official party resources – like printing facilities, party staff, money and database access – should be exclusive but there should be no sanction against party members who prefer to spend their own time supporting an alternative candidate.
- Candidates only qualify for this endorsement if they sign an undertaking to adopt the national and local manifesto of the Labour Party. Then Labour can hold a series of hustings meetings in public, culminating in a postal ballot and selection of an endorsed candidate.
- The local party then finalises the local manifesto with the candidate. The candidate is not the “Labour” candidate but does enjoy the resources of the local party.
- The public consultation exercises for the local policing manifesto should remain in place so that Labour can build local policing forums to inform and support Labour endorsed policing commissioners and candidates.
This would mean Labour members or independents could seek the Labour ticket and potentially it could provide a vehicle for “anti-Tory” forces to pool their resources. The public might also respect it as an attempt to influence an important area of policy while keeping the party politics to a manageable level.
What would be the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?
UPDATE: It seems the LibDems have caved in over this issue so elections will be likely in November 2012.