On the 29th of June 2016 I observed Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel conduct a “confirmation hearing” for Cllr Andy Coles in relation to his proposed appointment as Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire.
I was astonished to see panel members challenge Cllr Coles on the basis of gender, class and skin colour.
If it was suggested that someone was not suited for a job due to being lower-class, black, or a woman, quite rightly there would be uproar. In my view it is just as unacceptable to question someone’s suitability for a position on the grounds they appear to be a “white middle-class male”.
The bizarre line of questioning came from Cambridge’s representative on the panel, Labour’s Cllr Dave Baigent and independent member Edward Leigh who earlier that day had been elected as the panel’s vice-chair.
Cllr Baigent asked:
Is it not bad example for the deputy commissioner to be another white middle-class male?
Edward Leigh stated:
there will be some parts of the community who will find it difficult to approach you, they will find you unapproachable, you know whether it’s a young Muslim woman or someone from a Traveller community or whatever they will have their own pre-conceptions of who you are and what you stand for
No panel members spoke up to oppose the line of questioning taken by Baigent and Leigh.
I think Edward Leigh was insulting to Muslims and Travellers when he suggested that they would have pre-conceptions about Cllr Coles based on his appearance.
Full Transcript of Exchange
Cllr Dave Baigent: How Andy would you respond a perception that asks given that the police service seems to employ a wide range of people particularly from different genders, ethnicities, and is it not bad example for the deputy commissioner to be another white middle-class male?
Cllr Andy Coles: What you didn’t say was a disabled white middle-class male. I do sort of qualify if you are looking for a diversity label. But I my eyes arches up the skills I’ve got are actually pretty good on that. I don’t know very many people who’ve had the level of experience I’ve had in increasing it and bringing it to an oversight role. I’m just looking around this committee and I’m just wondering how many others who are not white middle-class males, let’s not talk about class here because that could offend somebody, but simple matter is I think I’m the best candidate for the job. I have experience within diversity and I know and I can communicate with a whole variety of minorities. If there was an alternate candidate who had my levels of experience and knowledge and came with a particular minority background then hopefully they would be presented in-front of you as an alternative candidate.
Cllr Ben Shelton:I’m glad we’re not going down the middle-aged road because I might have something to say about that, but anyway. Cllr Baigent did you want to come back as a supplementary.
Cllr Dave Baigent: Yeah I wouldn’t mind teasing out a bit more if I might. I’m talking here about a police service that is openly trying to recruit from diverse groups and you are at the figurehead now or will if confirmed and will be at the figurehead so I think that your experiences may well cover a whole range of things but I think there is something difficult that we should be acknowledging and I’m disappointed that Jason didn’t acknowledge that, that we should have perhaps had a different person in this role in regards to providing that mix that the police service itself tries to provide.
Cllr Ben Shelton: OK, just before you answer that I’m just going to ask the legal officer to comment.
Legal Officer: Thank you. If I could remind the panel that this is in relation to the applicant’s professional competence and personal independence and if further questions could be related to the candidate in that way with that in mind thank you.
Cllr Ben Shelton: OK. So we before I go on to Edward Leigh I think that question just needs slightly revising.
Cllr Dave Baigent: I’ll let it go. I’ve said it.
Cllr Ben Shelton: OK. All right. Edward Leigh.
Edward Leigh: Thank you chairman. I suppose every.. op.. that you would have to accept that being who you are, just as it would be for me, there will be some parts of the community who will find it difficult to approach you, they will find you unapproachable, you know whether it’s a young Muslim woman or someone from a Traveller community or whatever they will have their own pre-conceptions of who you are and what you stand for and one of the roles, part of the role that’s being set up, here is to seek and represent the views and concerns of the people of Cambridgeshire and that’s obviously all the people in Cambridgeshire so I just wondered if you wanted to comment on how you have thought about how you will address, between the two of you, how you will address that, how you will get through to those hard to reach communities who will see you as someone that they can’t confide in and can’t trust.
Cllr Andy Coles: I can answer that easily. Both communities you talk about I have good contacts with. I’m particularly involved in the community association where a whole number of young Muslim women have now started to use the facility because of my interaction with their local community and with going through the intermediaries to find a way through to people who want to use the facility and as a result I have a good relationship with young Muslim women in my area. I appreciate that’s not the whole of Cambridgeshire but I do have a track record of reaching out to minority communities.
When it comes to the Slovak-Roma community a significant proportion of the parents from that community have their children at the Voyager Academy, I also have hosted a number of Roma community events within our community hall, being the only hall that were prepared to work with them at one stage, so just judge me by what I’ve done I think and I completely understand, it’s always difficult from a particular minority community or from a disadvantaged group trying to address someone in power, I completely understand that, all I can say is I have a full commitment to make sure that I am as approachable and accessible as possible and I do make efforts to reach into groups that have been difficult. Bearing in mind in my previous time I was working with some of the most difficult to reach individuals when I was working on the Prevent agenda in London and my responsibility was to get access to disaffected young Muslims who were turning towards terrorist political attitudes within the higher and further education sector and I was successful within that area, again going through intermediaries that have access so I do understand the issue, I do understand how difficult it can be but I do have techniques to get through that so I can get that level of representation.
Cllr Ben Shelton: OK Thank you very much.