Here in Sussex, there are three leading candidates in the election campaign for the newly created post of Police and Crime Commissioner. In the last couple of weeks, I interviewed them all, at length. Firstly, I spent four hours grilling Ian Chisnall and then another hour debriefing him. He bills himself as the only independent candidate of any quality. Everybody else bills him as an Evangelical candidate, whatever that means. Secondly, I travelled to Hastings to meet the Labour Party candidate, Godfrey Daniel. He tried to distance his campaign from his party, trotting out the usual rhetoric that he was very much his own man. Lastly, I interviewed Katy Bourne, the Conservative Party candidate who aped Mr Daniel by trying to claim that she didn’t feel like a politician.
What is it with politics these days? Has the whole enterprise become so tarnished by sleaze, fiddling and broken promises that literally anyone entering its arena feels obliged to flag up their presence as that of a gatecrasher? Can’t those who seek to rule us do better than to bad mouth the very idea of the democratic system that we live under? None of these candidates called for reform of the system. Expressing distaste for a newly created job you are seeking to get lacks credibility if you don’t know how to improve it.
These are the three leading candidates for one simple reason: the Green Party did not stand a candidate. That was in keeping with our party’s policy that politicisation of the police was unnacceptable but money played a big part in the decision. Police and Crime Commissioners cannot be poor. Labour’s candidate has had his deposit paid by his national party. The Tory candidate is, well, a Tory candidate: however she has raised the money, it is not surprising that it can be afforded. The Tories have never been short of a few bob. The leading independent candidate refuses to say where he got his money from, save to say that it came from various unnamed individuals. Having already gone extinct in Brighton & Hove, The Liberal Democrats are facing political armageddon in Sussex as a whole, as a result of their national disgrace. There are claims that they will be standing a candidate. They’ve got form in the South for being caught by surprise by elections. Candidate or not, the race has begun with the Conservative Ms Bourne expected to win, Labour’s Mr Daniel fighting an impressive rear guard action and Mr Chisnall playing the wild card, apparently relying on the quiet network of church action groups.
Ian Chisnall’s interview revealed him to be hopelessly ill-prepared for the task at hand, whether or not you agree with my analysis of the manner in which his religious views inform his attitude to community relations (27th paragragh here in interview with Chisnall). I accept that there are some people who think that I was wrong to highlight his emotional outburst and comparison between the divide of straight/gay to the divide between faith/secular. However, the rest of the interview reveals him as a weak candidate. It is, as the estimable @huxley06 said, hands over the eyes stuff.
She sits on Sussex Police Authority, by the way. I’ve never met her but you hear lots of kind words about her from across the political spectrum. To answer her question, yes, my report of the interview was scrupulously accurate. Whilst writing this I read through some tweets about it. One twitterer suggested that I would burn in hell. Another claimed (around about 3pm yesterday) that he was walking up John Street to make a complain to Sussex Police about me inciting religious hatred. Mr Chisnall himself declared that he would not be making such a complaint but sidestepped the question of whether the interview did incite such hatred. Guess he’s got to keep the church brigade on side, at the very least. Despite being pointed to the published interview in advance and then directly asked, twice, a couple of days later whether he felt that he had been misquoted, he asked for more time to consider the question.
Why can’t Mr Chisnall answer this simple question? Click to enlarge.
Looking at his interview as a whole, it becomes obvious that he hasn’t anything like the experience or political wisdom to take on a job of this calibre. He admits to having done very little grass roots campaigning, persistently wanted to talk off the record during the interview itself, hypocritically claimed that he was sharing his draft manifesto with political parties to seek their advice on it and subsequent support whilst publicly claiming to be free from political influence, wasn’t familiar with the job description, had used potentially misleading imagery on his website, declared that a peace campaign group committed crimes without specifying what, had used the occasion of a fascist march as a photo-opportunity for his campaign and wants to hand part of the job of policing to the Neighbourhood Watch scheme. Of course, that is a crude summary of the 4,921 words I wrote covering his interview. However, it covers the main points. Mr Chisnall’s claim to be a serious candidate must be severely doubted, unless he can shape up his act fairly rapidly.
Mr Daniel was a whole different kind of beast. He was unafraid to upset his interviewer’s preferences, which is always a sign of a fellow who knows what his agenda is. He neatly stepped between declaring his politics and the line of leaving operational decisions to the police without appearing to confuse those issues. More importantly and unlike Mr Chisnall, he was ready for the financial reckoning. He was warm, hospitable and robust at the same time. I had concerns about some of what he said. The most worrying aspect of the interview was that he had adopted strong and hostile attitudes to Lewes Bonfire, despite not apparently understanding either the roots of or the machinations in that rebel tradition. Unless he makes a public statement changing his attitude to this I doubt I could stomach voting for him. Losing the disaffected LidDem voters in and around Lewes could well scupper his chances. For all their political errors, they have been very active Bonfire Boys and Girls.
Ms Bourne was, in my humble opinion, a weaker candidate than Mr Daniel but not as embarassing to listen to as Mr Chisnall. Despite only giving me a little less than an hour to interview her, we covered plenty ground. During that time, she was fuzzy about the details of practically everything I asked her about with two notable exceptions: the question marks over her own selection process and the cash budgets. Perhaps she had been challenged in those areas many times already? She confused the issue of whether a new law should be emphasised, for the sake of seeing it enforced properly, with the political merits of it being enacted in the first place (4th paragraph here in her interview). That begged the question as to whether she understood the nature of the job of Police & Crime Commissioner at all? As if to prove her claim that she wasn’t much of a politician, she risked outraging the Tory heartlands in the Sussex Weald by arguing that there could be different enforcement regimes for illegal drugs, according to local ‘needs’ and noting that the public in Brighton have a liberal attitude to people taking drugs. Can you imagine any serious Tory politician saying anything like that on the national stage? Most absurdly, she blamed the Green administration in Brighton & Hove for a fascist and racist organisation holding a march in that City, even though the march’s first outing predated the Green Party winning power. It sounded like she was parroting the talk of the Tory backrooms without actually checking the facts first. Sussex had more candidates seeking to become the Tories’ official choice than anywhere else in the country, presumably because the post was regarded as an utterly safe seat for that party. You might think that such intense competition would produce a top notch candidate. Certainly, that’s what Tory philosophy trumpets. If Ms Bourne is the best candidate they can produce, they are in bigger trouble than any of us previously imagined.
Since publishing these interviews, I am now being pursued by other candidates who wish to submit to my examination. They should contact me on twitter. I’ve said that publicly, more than once, but still they submit their phone numbers in comments on various blog posts of mine. Anything submitted there may be published. I hope they were publicity numbers anyway. I will interview the others, if convenient arrangements can be made and they can demonstrate that they are serious contenders.
There is some low talk in Sussex of simply spoiling our ballot papers. No-one wants this election, least of all the candidates. Everyone expects a low turnout. Many expect the post to be abolished after the Tories lose the next general election. We could encourage its abolition and a return to a properly non-political police force by spoiling our ballots rather than just not bothering to vote at all. As to how to spoil, that is very much up to the spoiler. Spoilt ballots are counted, so they do have influence, but they are not divided into categories. That said, I’ll be writing a very particular name on the ballot paper, with own big fat marker pen which I’ll take along for that purpose. The name? Guess!