Lisa Townsend is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey.
Can you name your Police and Crime Commissioner? Of course you can, you’re a ConservativeHome reader and know your politics. But can your neighbour?
Following the most recent set of elections in May this year, and after the by-election in Wiltshire, there are now 30 Conservative Police and Crime Commissioners (including four Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners). Eight PCCs are Labour and one Plaid Cymru.
There are not, and never have been, any Liberal Democrat PCCs. Turns out, even Lib Dems voters don’t trust their own party with overseeing law and order.
Allow me to assume we all believe in democracy. That we agree one directly-elected Conservative is preferable to an opaque ‘Police Authority’. This was the thinking behind Michael Howard’s 2005, and later Cameron’s 2010 Conservative Party manifestos. One person, answerable to her electorate, to hold the Chief Constable to account for delivering not on what the Force think is best for the people they serve, but what the residents and businesses themselves know they need.
I am one of the new Commissioners who came in following this year’s third set of PCC elections, held in May alongside County Council, Mayoral and other local votes. My own constituency of Surrey has, perhaps surprisingly, not always returned the Conservative candidate and I fully intend to be the first PCC in Surrey to both start and end my term as our Party’s representative.
So why vote for a Conservative PCC? I am sure that many of us understand instinctively as well as intellectually that Conservatives will always be the party of law and order. Labour sway in the wind on the issue, once declaring that they are ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ but also suggesting (as Scottish Labour did last month) the decriminalisation of drug possession – a stance Kier Starmer has backed. With his background, we could have expected the current Labour leader to be as tough as they come. Apparently not.
Independents proved an interesting experiment. Two have represented Surrey, but both started as Conservatives who lost the Party’s confidence. Anne Barnes in Kent was a particularly eccentric choice and was, rightly, succeeded by the excellent Matthew Scott, now in his second term.
Katy Bourne, my Sussex colleague and collaboration partner (our Forces share many services) is one of the original PCCs and shows what can be done when you have a great Commissioner in post for coming up to nine years, and still going strong. Marc Jones in Lincolnshire is leading the way on use of sobriety tags; Alison Hernandez is tackling anti-social behaviour in Devon and Cornwall and Roger Hirst is demonstrating the benefits of bringing fire and rescue under the brief in Essex. All are doing what their communities want, while delivering value for (taxpayer) money.
For those of us new to the brief, last week’s Party Conference in Manchester was a chance to meet up for the first time, talk with Home Office and Justice ministers, and discuss the challenges ahead with both each other and Party members. It is clear to me that we have an exceptionally talented new pool of PCCs to join our more experienced colleagues. Donna Jones is already making some necessary changes within Hampshire and Isle of Wight Police; David Sidwick is showing Dorset he’ll be the tough PCC they need, and Mark Shelford is standing up for women in Avon and Somerset. I look forward to highlighting the great work by other colleagues over the coming months.
Of course, we met under difficult times for policing. The worst of the pandemic may be behind us, but there are some tough times ahead and a lot of soul searching for police in England and Wales. I am incredibly proud of the work of Surrey Police and my Chief Constable, particularly around preventing violence against women and girls (VAWG) but I don’t think anyone believes we are getting it right every time.
Along with protecting women’s access to single-sex spaces, it is the biggest single issue filling my inbox and I have vowed to do everything in my power as PCC to tackle it – even where that means taking the ire of campaigners who seek to cancel those of us daring to say that sex matters and that male-bodied people, however they identify, have no place in women’s refuges or on our single-sex hospital wards.
This is just one example of how as a Conservative PCC I am responding to what my constituents are asking for. And that is why voting for a Conservative matters. Whether it’s tackling rural crime, preventing anti-social behaviour and drug use, or ensuring those who selfishly block our major roads are arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, I am delivering on the promises I made to the people of Surrey.
I couldn’t agree more with Priti Patel, who declared last week that she will “never flinch from taking the difficult decisions to keep our country safe and secure”. It is what we as Conservative Police and Crime Commissioners have always done, and will continue to do.