By Paul Goodman
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The first tranche of elections for police commissioners is expected to take place next spring. A reader asked recently whether the Party intends to stand candidates for them – and, if so, how the selection process will work.
There is obviously an option at either extreme. The first is that Downing Street and CCHQ could decide that Conservative candidates should stand for every vacancy, and devise an interventionist selection procedure like those that help shape the choice of candidates for Westminster and the European Parliament.
The second is that both conclude that police commissioners should be independents, and announce that no official Conservative candidates will contest the elections.
I gather that some senior Tories briefly considered going even further than the second extreme, if that's possible. They chewed over the possibility of the legislation actually barring political party candidates from standing – before swiftly rejecting the idea, rightly, as illiberal.
The instinct behind it has roots in parts of the Home Office and Justice teams that have survived from opposition – particularly those with a sturdy track record of support for localism.
Nick Herbert, the energetic Home Office and Justice Minister, has long been an enthusiast for the emergence of independent candidates with robust views on law and order – and perhaps some policing expertise, too – in the police commissioner elections.
Obviously, he and other Ministers will want such candidates to have vigorous support from and excellent relations with local Tories. But the itch for these independents is understandable.
I understand that discussions are taking place at the moment about what exactly should be done. And that no-one in Downing Street, CCHQ or elsewhere is pressing for the first option – Conservative candidates for every vacancy.
Instead, there is likely to be a localist solution. If Conservative Associations in one area want to run a candidate, they'll be able to do so. And if they don't, no-one will force them to.
This solution, though elegant – and I think correct – raises a practical question and a more philosophical one. The practical one is: if Associations in any area (for example, the Thames Valley, with which I've some familiarity) want to select a candidate, how will the process work?
The philosophical one is: while the desire for independents fits the anti-establishment mood of the times, shouldn't it be questioned? After all, what's the point of a political party that doesn't stand candidates?
To continue with this way of thinking: if independents who have good relations with local Conservatives are suitable to be police commissioners, why aren't they suitable to be MPs? And if they are, why bother standing Tory candidates in constituencies at all?
The narrow question of whether the party, at both a national and local level, should back Conservative or independent candidates for these elections thus turns out to have very wide implications.
The Liberal Democrats, we read, are already advertising for candidates – while simultaneously plotting to halt the elections altogether. I'd like to see local Conservative decision-making on the matter – and hope that in most areas party members either select a Tory candidate or support a strong centre-right independent.
What do you think?