Very interesting evening tonight at the Camberley hustings for the PCC candidates organised by the excellent Politicos group and chaired by Sylvia Heal, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons.
I have never known an election which has generated so little interest and enthusiasm except for the hardened political hacks. In fact, the only questions raised with me before tonight was “why have the Council sent me a polling card?” and “Do we have to go and vote for you again?” It is painfully obvious that the great British public have little current interest in these roles at the moment and clearly do not understand the purpose of them which is hardly surprising. Holding the election in November has made the situation even worse and numbers voting are likely to be dismal although I suspect not as bad as some predict due to higher levels of postal voting in Surrey.
Nonetheless, a reasonable turnout of around 70 people witnessed a thorough hustings for over 2 hours involving all 6 candidates before a mix of political activists and bemused members of the public. The candidates are a curious mix but each of them brought a different focus and pitch as to why they wanted the role.
Admittedly I am biased but Robert Evans was both thorough and articulate throughout the evening and showed his experience as a local teacher and political campaigner. Certainly the Labour people present came away pleased with his efforts and rightly so.
The Conservative candidate came across as nervous in her initial presentation which is perhaps not surprising for someone who admitted that they had never stood for office before. However, she did warm to the task in the questions and was particularly strong when talking about her experience working with young people. It also struck me that this is quite a surprising choice for the Conservatives bearing in mind that they could not have been short of candidates for the post and I would have expected them to choose someone more explicitly traditional in their views on crime and policing in line of their wider membership.
The Lib Dem had a safe but unspectacular evening showing good knowledge in a range of areas but without being particularly inspiring.
The UKIP candidate started by describing himself as a “proper copper” but then surprisingly boasted “when not if I am elected” which is not going to happen. He had a poor start on the first question “What would you cut if elected?” by admitting that he didn’t know and had no answer but was much stronger when talking about his own front-line experiences as a police officer and dispelling some of the beliefs put by other candidates.
The Independents both gave direct pitches for the “non political vote”. Peter Williams pitch was basically to continue doing the same job as per the last 4 years and that party politics should have no place in the election. This is clearly a genuine sentiment that he holds but likely to bear little fruit in terms of actual votes especially as any Independent votes will be split with Kevin Hurley and his “zero tolerance” approach. His pitch was notable for claiming that he had “stopped human right abuses in Iraq” as well as being involved in some kind of acupuncture business at present. Both of these candidates clearly knew their subjects but are likely to struggle in my view with the actual practicalities of campaigning across a County without any kind of party machine but it will be interesting to see how they get on.
The audience were very well behaved and only came to light on the surprising subject of the European Arrest Warrant and whether the UK should pull out which is not actually an issue for the PCC to decide. This was the only issue to split down party lines with Labour and Lib Dems and Independents on the side of staying in to address cross-border crime whereas UKIP wanted to get rid and the Tory (appearing to act on national party policy) suggested we should leave and then renegotiate bits we liked which seemed unlikely.
However, all 6 candidates appeared to enjoy their evening in Camberley and let’s hope that the winning candidate visits again in the near future…