Mark Reckless is the Member of Parliament for Rochester and Strood and serves on the Home Affairs Select Committee. Follow Mark on Twitter.
It is ten years since I joined the Conservative Party Policy Unit and helped develop our policy for direct election of those who oversee our police. It was therefore a particular pleasure for me to spend Saturday at the Conservative Selection Council to decide our final shortlist for Kent's first Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).
Tim Montgomerie described the withdrawal of Colonel Tim Collins in Kent as a 'blow', but it is one we barely noticed given the strength of the rest of our field. The three who made it through were:
- Finance whizz and ex-UKIP Leader Craig Mackinlay, who came over to the Conservatives in 2005, gave perhaps the most powerful speech, showing a no-nonsense approach to budgeting, cutting crime and policing our borders;
- Foreign Office man, Francois Gordon, who comes from a long civil service career and worked as an EU desk officer before taking on ambassadorial roles, and is now "European Strategy Adviser" to Kent Police; and
- Jan Berry, an ex-police officer who for several years ran the Police Federation, the police equivalent of a trade union, and was persuaded by the wording of the PCC oath to stand as Conservative and not Independent.
Councillors Brian Sweetland, Jo Gideon and Mike O'Brien performed well, but with Craig Mackinlay, an ex-ambassador, and an ex-head of the Police Federation winning through against them, in what was a very tight contest, the Kent PCC contest should remain one of the highest profile.
All seventeen constituencies in Kent are currently Conservative. Our members though will be asked in three hustings (Tonbridge 9/6, Canterbury 15/6 and Hoo, Rochester 17/6) to choose between three candidates, two of whom were not previously active Conservatives. We were also given an excellent example of the proper balance between the political role of the PCC and the operational role of the Chief Constable.
Until 2007, when Craig Mackinlay won a previously strongly Labour ward covering the centre of Chatham (and actually in my constituency) on a ticket to do something about it, street prostitution was endemic in Chatham, having been put in the 'too difficult' box by the police for at least 150 years. Now it has been largely eradicated by police working with the council, and not just arresting prostitutes, pimps and kerb-crawlers, but getting the girls off drugs and into accommodation, and often then into work or college. PCCs will be able to give that sort of lead elsewhere.
With many other areas now selecting and launching campaigns, I believe that David Cameron, Nick Herbert and the whole Conservative Party can take great pride in putting the police under proper democratic control. After November 15th we will be able to look on directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners as one of the great reforms of this Conservative-led government.