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?