Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Liberal Democrats should fight police commissioner elections

Worrying news comes this evening via Mark Pack on Liberal Democrat Voice:
The Liberal Democrat Federal Executive (FE) decided this week that the federal party will not be providing any financial backing to Liberal Democrats wishing to stand for election as Police Commissioners. The expectation is that instead the party will end up backing independent candidates, although it has been made clear that local areas can decide to field candidates if they wish to – albeit without any financial backing from the central party.
This seems a nonsense to me. The federal does not usually provide financial backing for council elections, but that has never stopped local parties fighting them. What is different here?

Are we really saying that the Liberal Democrats have nothing much to say about policing? Because there is a clear danger that this is the message that the press and public will take from this decision.

I am not a supporter of elected police commissioners, but they have now been brought in (ultimately with Liberal Democrat support at Westminster). Political parties cannot always choose the battles they fight and third parties can almost never choose them. So we should not walk away from these contests.

One of my fears about these elections is that the field will be dominated by populist right-wingers - indeed I suspect that is what many of those who have supported this new system want. Refusing to field Liberal Democrat candidates will do nothing to offer the public an alternative.

For who will offer a Liberal voice if we do not? Certainly not Labour or the Conservatives.

As to the "expectation" that Liberal Democrats will support independent candidates, as Mark points out, this raise the possibility that party members will find themselves supporting different candidates in the same contest.

I think the party is owed an explanation for this odd decision. I suspect a shortage of funds lies at the back of it, but did local parties ever expect these contests to be centrally funded in the first place?


Hywel said...

The Federal party has funded local elections through G8 for the last 15 or so years. I think these will be the first elections to have no federal funding in at least that long.

There was no suggestion that there was such a shortage of funds in the reports to conference. The draft budget for 2012 shows a £117k surplus.

Anonymous said...

"The draft budget for 2012 shows a £117k surplus."


Jonathan Calder said...

Hywel: But local parties across the country fight council elections every year without expecting or receiving funding from what used to be Cowley Street.

And if money is not the reason for this decision it would be good to hear what the reason is.

Iain Sharpe said...

The problem is that the FE resolution appears to be rather less than a ringing endorsement of standing candidates.

There are national funding streams available for local elections although I'm a bit hazy on whether these count as being from the federal party.

As this is effectively a nation-wide election with a high media profile, one would expect the central party to put some resources behind it - particularly in areas where on paper we might stand a chance of winning.

Hywel said...

"Hywel: But local parties across the country fight council elections every year without expecting or receiving funding from what used to be Cowley Street."

My point is that they did. Albeit it indirectly - and my experience is that people started to expect that G8 would be available each year.

In any case this is crass presentation by the FE - they could easily have reached the same "in practice" decision presented as "The Federal Party will continue to support the efforts of on the ground campaigners where this can make a significant difference to the electoral chances of the party."

In any case Federal money will be spent on some of this campaigns where target seats are involved - eg Devon and Cornwall covers a huge number of held and target seats.

Dan Falchikov said...

Is the FE's decision even constitutional?

crewegwyn said...

Right decision.

Ludicrous presentation.