The decision not to run Liberal Democrat police commissioner candidates is a
disastrous error, says Paul Crossley
Next autumn, there will be an election across virtually all of England and
Wales, and the party is recommending that Liberal Democrats do not participate.
This is Alice in Wonderland logic. We do not approve of police commissioners so
we will not take part and we will say it is a matter of principle that
politicians should not meddle in police matters. Bah Humbug. Life is about
politics, and politics is about choice and priorities.
The elections are going to happen and the Conservatives, Labour, other political
parties and several mavericks and others will be taking part and they will
portray our absence not as a principled stand but as one of a party in despair
and crisis and lacking in confidence.
We should present our unique message on law and order and police priorities to
the electorate in every seat. We do not approve of the move to elected mayors
but we certainly contest them with vigour, and even win some of them.
The problem is that the party seems unable to imagine how it can contest these
elections in any other way than delivering shed loads of paper that we can’t
afford to produce, lots of which will not be delivered and, of those delivered,
only a small percentage will be read. The party has not learnt how to campaign
over large constituencies. We have a campaign model that is perfected on small
skirmishes and small by-elections.
We should be using these elections to try out innovations and new techniques
that can be used for free by engaging and involving people through the web. We
should be using these elections to get people knocking on doors and talking to
residents and building up relationships with our electors rather than just
pushing yet more unwanted literature through their letterboxes.
Let’s use our financial pain not as an excuse not to compete but as a rallying
call to try some new campaign ideas. After all, there can be nothing to lose
except deposits and it may even help us develop new ideas that can be used in
The last general election started well with a huge boost from the televised
debate, which we threw away as we acted like rabbits caught in the headlights
and did not know how to respond to the new opportunities. We know we have no
friends in the media.
Police commissioner seats cover 15 or more parliamentary seats and so make our
current campaign methodology impossible to apply. But with modern techniques, we
have the ability to generate and control our own press and publishing – blogs,
websites, on-line interactions, YouTube, social media and systems for e-news
such as mailchimp or Constant Contact.
Using these tools requires a different methodology to the traditional seven
leaflet campaign. It requires us to start door knocking now and to have to
discuss our policies and to build up trust with voters so that they do not feel
they have been simply data mugged for a voting intention.
When you have had a conversation on the doorstep and have got casework, you will
be able to get either their email address or Facebook ID. Web publishing
requires a much more positive approach to writing, as people simply do not want
to receive negative attacking literature in their inbox. They want to know what
we are proposing.
Knocking on doors is the way to lance the boil of discontent among those who
voted for us but are distressed by the coalition. It is also the way to find
those who like the coalition and who may not have identified as Liberal Democrat
The party is making a huge mistake to not take police commissioner elections
seriously and is doing so for the wrong reasons. The sticking plaster excuse
will wash off on the first day. It would be a sad day indeed to see national
ballot papers containing Conservative, Labour, UKIP, Green, a variety of
independents and BNP candidates and not Liberal Democrats.
At the Western Counties conference, the regional party leadership presented the
party line from on high but the activists challenged and reversed it to one of
encouraging participation. However, the party has made the hurdles to competing
high. The party hierarchy seems determined to lead the party down a wrong route
and the justifications used will simply seem more risible the closer we get to
The party hierarchy has simply got the call on these elections completely wrong.
The excuse of not politicising the role is laughable.
Law and order is a significant and distinctive part of our manifesto. We must
take part in these elections and the party should be working on strategies for
campaigns that do not cost us a fortune, and make a virtue of the fact.
We should be proud of our message on law and order, and the grassroots of the
party should start demanding that the Liberal Democrats participate and get out
on the streets calling on people.
Paul Crossley is leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council
Click here to return to the home page.