Philip Wilkinson is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon.
I first considered applying for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire when I was home on leave from Somalia sometime in 2018. Consequently, I approached the Devizes Conservative Association, where I am a member, but was told that they had already selected a candidate. I considered standing as an independent but decided to return to my challenging and stimulating job, working with the Minister for Internal Security in Somalia. With the Covid lock-down and travel restrictions, working in Somalia became impossible. Life then took a very pleasant turn, as my wife Ruth and I spent many hours exploring our lovely county on foot. As life started to return to normal Ruth returned to work albeit virtually and I set to writing my memoirs called ‘Sharpening the Weapons of Peace’, which I have now completed and are with the publisher. Retirement had finally caught up with me, or so I thought!
In May, having cast our ballots we were watching the news and saw the debacle of the Jonathon Seed saga unfold. My first thoughts were of dismay for the party but tinged with relief as I was not convinced that the Party had selected the best person for such an important role as the Police and Crime Commissioner. Over the next couple of days, it gradually dawned on me that as I was no longer intending to return to Somali, I could bring my experience and expertise back to Wiltshire and that I could serve my community here. I could also help to dig the party out of a reputational hole. When I had a phone call from our Association President asking if I was considering putting myself forward, it required one very short conversation with Ruth before I said yes.
For the next month, I was put through the Party selection process and was finally elected as the Conservative Party candidate for the Wiltshire post of Police and Crime Commissioner on June 23rd, with an election date of the 19th August. As I was experiencing this process, the true importance of the role of the PCC finally hit home, which was brilliant as it sharpened my focus and helped to prepare me mentally for challenges of the election itself. Essentially, I had two months to win over our seven constituency parties in Wiltshire in order that they would throw their weight behind my bid for election; and not through party loyalty alone but because they truly felt that I was the best person to make our lovely county a safer place. And I then had to persuade our voters that I was the best person for the job. Assessing my situation, which was clearly challenging, I knew that I was blessed in living in such a true-blue county; and with seven MPs and their associations behind me, I felt confident that I could take on all challengers and win.
My first challenge was personal in that I had never engaged in any form of local or national election before. I did not know the electoral processes let alone have any experience of running and managing a campaign. And this is where Head Office and Swindon and Wiltshire Conservatives stepped forward. Without the advice, guidance and support of my campaign team of Thomas James, Nicholas Stovold, Tamara Reay and the heavy lifting of Byron Quayle my campaign would not have left the ground. As the campaign progressed, I was given fantastic support from our conservative associations and a whole raft of councillors and helpers that are too many to mention. I owe them all a huge dept of gratitude. I really appreciate the shoe leather that they wore out to get me elected. I also want to thank our MPs for their support and advice. They were fantastic. I thought I was fit but Justin Tomlinson put me in the shade!
My only serious contender was an ex-policeman who was fortunately standing as an independent. I don’t think that a relatively junior police officer could perform the functions of a PCC effectively but he had a couple of years to put his campaign team together and I suspect that if had a party infrastructure in support, he would have been an even closer contender. His strap-line of less politics and more policing had a resonance on the doorstep. The most consistent complaint I faced related to the cost of the rerun of this second election and that Jonathon Seed had not stood down or been stood down by the Party pending the results of the investigation by the Thames Valley Police. In my view this was a serious error; it would have been the right thing to do and very nearly cost us the election.
I have now been in office for a week and I am blessed to have a great team to support me in my office and along the corridor in the Chief Constable’s office. While I only had two months to campaign, I met a great many of our residents and was able to refine and nuance my campaign pledges as I went along. In terms of crimes, my immediate priorities are drugs, rural crime and anti-social behaviour especially speeding and my immediate procedural challenges are the complaints process and the systemic challenges of case file development, disclosure and the backlog in court cases, largely caused by Covid. I’ve already dived into the police estate and I know I need to find a fix for Salisbury and to improve our training facilities in the Headquarters. Within Home Office guidelines, I’ve sharpened the complaints procedure that will now focus on my office, which I will reinforce for this purpose. Of course, the Chief Constable will remain responsible for the operational investigation of complaints but I will improve our communication processes such that by tracking and reporting on the progress of complaints, I am more responsive to our MPs, councillors and the general public. I will take our complaints process democratically closer to the people.