A huge debate has developed over the last few days following a statement from the former Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) candidate, John Pye, who is encouraging electors to support the independent candidate in the forthcoming elections. I would encourage you to read my County Council cabinet colleague Steve Tierney's excellent blog about the issue.
There is one area where I disagree with Steve. I always felt that appointing someone as a Conservative candidate when they had no intention of joining the party was a mistake. Expecting others who pay good money to the party to campaign and fund raise for someone that was refusing to do the same was always a recipe for disaster, and so it proved. I also think his latest observations reinforce the view that his selection was a mistake.
But, I have always felt that the argument that a PCC should be independent was a weak one anyway (especially when the Cambridgeshire independent candidate has a clear socialist background). To me, first and foremost, the police and crime commissioner has to be a talented and experienced politician . The role is a political one, with a strong strategic role.
The biggest part of the role for me is engagement. With policing there is a delicate triangle of relationships between the police, politicians and the public. For people to have confidence in policing the links between all three have to be strong - but the reality is that currently they are not. If a PCC is to be effective he must strengthen those relationships by engaging strongly with all three in a way that is an exchange of facts and views rather than just a token listening exercise - and then to use that engagement to strongly inform the strategic thinking that is needed to develop policing.
The only way that engagement can work is if it is delivered by an experienced politician who can show a strong set of principles that will govern the way they work - principles which are often best demonstrated by political history and beliefs. I would argue that strong Conservative values are those that are closest to people's thinking on policing, but also that Sir Graham Bright is the only candidate who can demonstrate the sort of political background that is needed to be an effective PCC.
The point Steve Tierney makes about whips is also spot on. The PCC role is not one that is aligned to a political group, therefore there is no whipping. I would argue that whips are applied too often in politics in any case - but that certainly is not the case for the PCC, who will be able to use his experience without the constraints of a group and will be free to operate within his own personal political ethos.