Baroness Warsi is Conservative Party Chairman. Follow her on Twitter.
Political summers are traditionally sleepy, but there’s a buzz in the air at party headquarters and in the regions. It surrounds the forthcoming election of Police and Crime Commissioners and we are throwing everything we’ve got at the challenge. November 15 is the big day – the day when voters in 41 police areas outside London will, for the first time, have the chance to decide how their police forces are run by choosing who leads them.
It’s shaping up to be a great campaign. I’ve assigned a press officer and a member of the research department to each police area and our campaign teams are working hard on the ground. We have some excellent candidates who are already working their patches by finding out local priorities, speaking to residents and raising awareness about these elections. They include former army officers, teachers, councillors and police officers – people who know they can make a difference in an area which concerns most people: crime and policing.
Things kicked off formally on July 19 with our training day, as journalists, candidates, party officials and ministers piled into CCHQ to kick off the campaign. My tour began shortly afterwards, during which I’ve launched a ‘No Cold Calling’ campaign in Pendle, backed York’s ‘Think, Don’t Swim’ initiative, and been door-knocking, leafleting and pounding the streets with our truly inspirational candidates. I am keeping up that momentum across the regions and look forward to being in Humberside soon for the next leg of my tour. Meanwhile, policing minister Nick Herbert and Theresa May have been out on the campaign trail too, making the case for Conservative PCCs. Nick wrote about the subject for ConHome last week.
It’s clear why Conservatives are pushing so hard for PCCs. The concept is a Conservative one: making policing local, democratic, accountable and visible. That’s why their creation was in our manifesto and why we have implemented what is, undoubtedly, a policing revolution. On November 16 we will be left with a 41 figureheads for our 41 forces – people with whom the budget starts and the buck stops, who can hire and fire Chief Constables, set the precept and ultimately determine how their patch is policed. We know that will lead to one thing: improved policing. And it will be a vast improvement on the invisible, unelected police authorities who have been running our forces for so long.
Labour is less enthused by all this. Yvette Cooper has shown how out of touch she is with people by calling PCCs ‘the wrong priority’. We all know that policing and safety on our streets is a priority in most people’s lives. Ed Miliband has called it a ‘a bad job’, yet many of Labour’s political has-beens are scrambling for it. And despite bodies like Victim Support and ACPO praising the new role, Vernon Coaker, the Labour MP for Gedling, was overheard calling it a ‘crock of ****’. So once again we see Labour without ideas and a vision – just criticism and a blank page.
On the ground, we’ve had a great reaction. Regional reporters are pitching up at our campaign days and we are getting a great showing in the local papers. People I meet when I campaign are equally receptive. After all, bringing transparency and accessibility to policing has already proved popular – just look at the popularity of the crime mapping site, police.uk, which saw 18 million hits an hour at its launch, and the growing and successful use of social networking like Twitter and Facebook by police forces.
When our party got into government we scrapped all police targets and gave officers one objective: to cut crime. It’s paid dividends, with recorded crime falling by 4% in the last year alone. Meanwhile neighbourhood police numbers have risen, police visibility has increased and satisfaction is up. And even in these difficult times in Government, we have a 7% lead over Labour on crime. After all, the Conservative Party has been the party of law and order since Peel, and the introduction of PCCs – and the election of many Conservative PCCs on November 15 – will be yet another demonstration of that commitment.