On the evening of Friday the 7th of September 2012 Cambridgeshire Conservatives held an event at which they had a second go at selecting a candidate for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner. They were trying again as the person they had previously selected in a postal ballot of their membership, John Pye decided to step down.
Mr Bright’s Policies
Mr Bright has listed ten policies on his webpage (as it’s just one page I don’t think I ought call it a website).
- Genuine Partnership with the public to hold the police to account by setting strategy and effective monitoring
- Priority to fight Cambridgeshire’s largest crime problem of anti-social behaviour
- Encourage and support more Special Constables
- A friendly, easy to use website for the public to track their ideas, my promises and to monitor progress of crime solving
- Consultation with all levels of Local Government including Parish Councils
- Not to put any additional burden on council tax
- Co-operation with neighbouring forces to improve efficiencies and find cost reductions
- Upgrade Neighbourhood Watch by providing better resources and giving greater responsibility similar to London’s Neighbourhood Boards but based on parishes
- Co-operation with London in creating a crime reporting app to enable faster and easier reporting of crimes
- Ensure a better and faster response to telephone calls to the police from the public
Let’s take those one by one:
Genuine Partnership with the public to hold the police to account by setting strategy and effective monitoring
I didn’t find this particularly easy to parse. I think what he’s saying is that a key way of holding the police to account is to monitor the police’s performance against strategies which have been set. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. This is a principle which I would like to see deployed at all levels from local priority setting meetings, through the district Community Safety Partnerships, to force wide policing plan.
I think there’s a need, and opportunity, for the Police and Crime Commissioner to look beyond the police; they could, and in my view should, take a role in leading all police and crime related bodies ensuring including probation, the courts, elements of local councils are working in support of the strategies set. There is also a role for Commissioners to hold national bodies, such as the National Crime Agency when it comes into being, to account and to ensure it is supporting the work of the local police and justice sector.
In practice, to genuinely involve the public, at the level of being in partnership with the commissioner will require openness and transparency. Strategic priorities at all levels will need to be quantitatively set and the information needed to assess if they they are taking effect will need to be openly and pro-actively published.
As well as openly publishing information and being open to input from all with an interest I think that working with elected representatives, district, county and Peterborough City Councillors, is a valuable and valid way of a commissioner engaging with the public. I would like to see a commissioner use councillors on the Police and Crime Panel to assist in monitoring the performance of the police, both against strategies set and generally monitoring performance and looking into concerns raised by the public, inspectorate, custody visitors, and others.
Priority to fight Cambridgeshire’s largest crime problem of anti-social behaviour
I disagree strongly with this priority. I have attended very many public meetings on policing in Cambridgeshire and almost invariably when members of the public or their elected representatives use the term “anti-social behaviour” they are referring to things which were otherwise criminal before the New Labour Anti-Social Behaviour laws came in. I do not think “anti-social behaviour” is a useful term; public clamour for the police to act on it leads to police stopping youths gathering, stopping youths playing football. The police and public seeking action both use the term “anti-social behaviour” even for violent assaults, drug dealing and other serious crime, I don’t think this is helpful and ought be encouraged.
When pushed to explain why they are complaining about, or even reporting to the police, instances of youths gathering, I have on a couple of occasions heard people articulate that they want an assurance that if something did happen then the police are able to respond. I think that this kind of assurance does need to be given, but not at the expense of criminalising perfectly reasonable behaviours. I think a key element of providing that assurance is for the police to answer their phones promptly, an area where Cambridgeshire Police are currently, and inexcusably, failing.
Another problem is the expansion of the number of crimes dealt with via ASB law, when other laws would be more appropriate. An example is the way dangerous, careless and speeding drivers are now often dealt with.
Encourage and support more Special Constables
I agree with this. I think Special Constables, holding as they do the full powers of a police constable, are incredibly valuable, more so than PCSOs. Volunteering in this way, as a Special Constable, and in many other ways too should be encouraged and supported.
A friendly, easy to use website for the public to track their ideas, my promises and to monitor progress of crime solving
I don’t think a commissioner’s promises website should be the same as one providing updates on solving crime. I think getting the police’s internal systems online and modernising the force’s IT enabling things such as obtaining information on the status of a crime investigation to be done online is necessary, but ought be quite separate from a commissioner’s web presence. There is a need to separate the commissioner from the police force and not treat them as Mr Bright appears to plan to, as one and the same.
In terms of submitting ideas – at the local level I would like to see every local police priority setting meeting have an online presence; such as a Facebook group, a ShapeYourPlace website or a local forum site where suggestions can be made asynchronously by those unable or unwilling to attend a priority setting meeting. The commissioner, and local community safety partnerships should also have interactive websites enabling open public debate and deliberation.
Consultation with all levels of Local Government including Parish Councils
Yes, but I disagree with Mr Bright’s focus on Parish Councils, they are often not the strongest elements of our democracy. Many town/parish level councils don’t operate very transparently and they are particularly prone to having uncontested elections or councillors appointed due to vacant seats and uncontested elections. I would like to see local district / county / Peterborough City councillors given responsibility for deciding to what degree to, and how to, involve their local parish councils. Mr Bright has been banging on about Parish Councils in a radio interview this morning; they are clearly, along with “Neighbourhood Watch” a strong element of his campaign, I’m concerned though that, to put it politely, they sometimes attract the more outlandish characters, and feed Neighbourhood Watch’s input in, along with input from other sources, to district and county councillors at priority setting meetings where the police would be held to account.
Not to put any additional burden on council tax
I support the idea of keeping the state as small as possible. I think I can spend my money better than the state can, and taxes ought only be spent on things individuals can’t practically do themselves – like building roads or providing a police force. I think that saying there will be no increase in the police element of council tax in the first year is a reasonable manifesto to stand on; however this ought be accompanied by a statement by saying how the budget will be balanced. The Chief Constable has already made clear he will be pushing for an increase in the council tax precept, saying without it he will be forced to cancel recruitment and officer numbers will drop.
I think saying he will not put any additional burden on council tax isn’t something which ought be promising now, for years beyond the first, he simply doesn’t know what the future holds.
Co-operation with neighbouring forces to improve efficiencies and find cost reductions
Clearly collaborations are a way of saving significant amounts of money. Much of this work has already been put in train by the current Police Authorities, it is no longer an area of easy savings. Notably Bright has not said “continue the current collaborations with Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire”. If collaborations relate to online back office functions there is no need for them to be with neighbouring forces.
Upgrade Neighbourhood Watch by providing better resources and giving greater responsibility similar to London’s Neighbourhood Boards but based on parishes
I think there is currently a lot of waste, duplication, and lack of cohesiveness surrounding Neighbourhood Watch and local groups which set police priorities and hold the police to account for their performance against them. I would like to see democracy at the heart of the system, with local councillors setting priorities and holding the police to account after having listened to the views of the public. I think all information which is given to Neighbourhood Watch groups ought be made public, via systems such as eCops, Twitter, Facebook and other routes; there is no need to continue to maintain separate infrastructure and staff to support neighbourhood watch and local police priority setting committees – in East Cambridge recently we had a new Neighbourhood Watch Group on Whitehill Close attend the East Area Committee where their local police priorities are democratically set, saying they went a year as a group without being made aware of the committee. I think all local police consultative activity be it in schools, crime buses, police surgeries etc. ought feed into the elected councillors at the priority setting meetings.
Co-operation with London in creating a crime reporting app to enable faster and easier reporting of crimes
Yes, it should be possible to report certain types of crime online (a phone compatible website would probably be easier to maintain than a series of apps for different devices). I’m very cautious about creating confusion though; there is already immense confusion over things such as the threshold for reporting a matter to the police, what to report to the police and what to report to the council, and for example if reporting something by email, or by phone direct to a specific officer, is as effective at getting the matter recorded as dialling 101.
I would also be concerned about the reporting of matters which warrant a quick police response online; I think the phone is the best technology for many reports of crimes, as it allows the caller to be quickly questioned to find out the required information. For some reports though, where the main aim of the caller is to simply report something to obtain a crime number for insurance purposes, or to ensure something registers on the police’s statistics so they can determine if there is a trend, online reporting is clearly the way to go.
Ensure a better and faster response to telephone calls to the police from the public
Absolutely. (Read more about my lobbying and campaigning for Cambridgeshire police to answer their phones). This is something a commissioner should ensure gets sorted out on before they go to sleep on the day of their election.
There is no mention in Mr Bright’s policies of:
- Providing strategic direction not just for the police, but for the work of the courts, prison and probation services, local councils and other bodies with an impact on policing, crime and justice matters in the area; including schools and health service providers.
- Safety, including road safety and injuries. In my view keeping people safe is one of the key roles of the police, and a commissioner’s effectiveness can be judged by the number and severity of crime, and roads, related injuries.
- Drugs, despite their huge impact both through crime such as burglaries, and on the health of those taking drugs and committing related crimes.
- There are no specific Cambridgeshire related priorities; nothing on preparedness for eg. flooding, nothing on what if anything he will do to sort out the unreliable and dangerous A14, and no mention of cycling.
Mr Bright’s Parliamentary Record on Policing
Mr Bright was an MP from 1979 until he lost the 1997 Election in Luton South to Labour’s Margaret Moran. During his eighteen years as an MP Mr Bright mentioned “Police” on only the following, four, occasions covering three topics:
- 11 November 1983 During consideration of a Bill designed to regulate video recordings Mr Bright expressed concern that banning certain material could lead to an unregulated black market.
- 25 April 1986 Mr Bright raised the case of a constituent’s death, following which the family had to mount a private prosecution for manslaughter in order to obtain justice, highlighting problems with the state’s decision making process in determining if to prosecute or not.
- 9 March 1990 and 27 April 1990 – Acid House Raves Bill – Mr Bright spoke in support of higher fines for rave organisers breaching licensing laws.
These were good quality contributions, but it hardly looks like the record of a man who is passionate about policing. For comparison Cambridge’s current MP, Julian Huppert has made a speech containing the word “Police” 49 times in debates in the House of Commons in just over two years whereas in Mr Bright’s 18 years he managed 16 times. Mr Bright said less on the police in thirteen years as an MP than Mr Huppert has managed in his first two.
One of the more colourful speeches Mr Bright made in Parliament includes the following statement:
I had never watched a blue movie, but I must admit that when I was in Sweden I was led astray by some Swedish politicians and I did not enjoy the experience at all.
Turnout at the Second Attempt at Conservative Selection
Whereas the previous party selection process involved 746> members Graham Bright was selected by just “over a hundred” party members at the hustings event, with those who could not attend in person being disenfranchised.
South Cambridgeshire Conservatives have stated the numbers of votes cast for each candidate would not be revealed in line with “party tradition”. A couple of months earlier though the same website carried the breakdown of “votes/points” for each candidate in the initial selection process.
Conservative Cllr Steve Tierney on Graham Bright
Cllr Tierney, a leading local Conservative who sits on the County Council’s Cabinet, has written about Mr Bright saying:
… I didn’t vote for him. The reason was that he was too dry, I didn’t detect any passion for the role.
That’s the noteworthy quote; if it’s piqued your interest for its context see Cllr Tierney’s article.
Labour’s Ed Murphy
In response to Bright’s selection, the Labour prospective candidate, Mr Murphy has tweeted
Peterborough Cllr now backing me. Says minority took part in latest Tory selection had to go to second ballot. Bright not a pop choice.
- Graham Bright’s leaflet circulated to Conservative members during to the initial selection process: (Page 1 | Page 2) – Tweeted by @ClaytonHudson – Originals: 1 and 2
- The same leaflet is available as a PDF (1.2MB) from Graham Bright’s Website
- Graham Bright’s Personal Website
- Graham Bright’s TheyWorkForYou page
- Graham Bright’s Wikipedia Page