Archives for May 2016

Reflections on Defeat

Losing an election is no fun. You start the day running scenarios through your mind. In fact, you’ve spent the last few months running scenarios through your mind.

If Conservatives vote for me, we’ll have x votes. How many will vote UKIP? How many Independent? Will Labour voters only switch to Plaid? (It turns out that, pretty much, they will). What will they do with their second preference votes? Will more go to him or her? As the count approaches these calculations reach fever pitch.

Then you arrive. Suddenly everything goes calm. You wait, watch, pace and wait. In the background counters bundle votes into piles; the currency of democracy accumulating like bullion in a bank. Counting agents observe and report numbers.

I’d known since the results for Assembly seats were declared on Friday morning that my prospects were very uncertain. As the count wore on, they diminished to nothing. There’s no way of sugaring the pill. It’s horrible.

Perhaps the greatest frustration of losing is realising that the plans you have discussed so enthusiastically across so many doorsteps will come to nothing. I loved my term as police and crime commissioner. I enjoyed the campaign. I peddled my plans with feverish enthusiasm. The voters, it turns out, peddled them back. Such is democracy.

Whatever my personal disappointment, the public have had their say. That is a good thing. It is one of the reasons I stood for the post in the first place. I was fortunate to get one chance.

As in any new venture, I’m sure I got as much wrong as I got right. But I’m confident that on the few big questions – the ones that define a term of office – I delivered on my promises. We have more officers than when I started. They are fully funded and sustainable. We reduced crime and antisocial behaviour, which blight people’s lives regardless of how ’serious’ they appear. We have far more extensive support for victims of crime, from domestic abuse to neighbourhood disputes. We managed that while saving public money, which we had to do since less is available.

What went wrong? Something did, because I failed to convince voters to put me back.

Was it CCTV? Or the helicopter? Was it a decision, which began with a suggestion from the force’s finance team and went completely unremarked at the time, to stop charging the Royal Welsh Show around £40k for policing because it was not consistent with other police forces’ practice? This seemed entirely sensible to me but generated a foaming rage on social media.

Was it simply that elections for the Assembly swamped the PCC elections, encouraged voting on party lines and drove up turnout unfavourable to Conservatives? In which case, will it reverse in 2020 when elections coincide with the General Election?

Time will tell. It might be all of these. For now, here is some of what I will miss – and won’t miss – about this role.

I will miss:

  • Policing in action. Seeing officers and PCSOs walk their patch and greet – it sometimes seemed – everyone by name. Hearing about offenders prosecuted or victims supported. Knowing of people who have broken free from abuse thanks to services I have commissioned.
  • Discovering Wales. The road from Llandeilo to Lampeter, via Talley, in early summer must be one of the loveliest in Britain. Pembrokeshire’s hidden villages. And Radnorshire – but I knew that anyway.
  • The team. Bringing new skills into the PCC office and building existing staff was a pleasure. And much needed. So was seeing new services begin, good officers get promoted or PCSOs take up initiatives in their local area.

What I won’t miss:

  • Online bores, though I doubt they will go away completely. The worst thing about losing is that some of them seem to think it’s their posts wot did it. Not the 187,000 votes, you see.
  • Carmarthenshire County Council. Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors.
  • The police mob. By far the majority of officers are wonderful (see above). But there’s a strain of police thinking, present in all forces and – at least in part – at all ranks, which, frankly, still does not understand who the police work for.

Police forces exist to serve the public, not police officers. Police and crime commissioners are one part of a package of reforms to ensure that is the case. I had a general sense of their need in 2012. I am certain of them now.

Which brings me to my final observation. My successor here must demonstrate that he stands for the public, not his old police colleagues. If he wants to defend local policing he will find his opponents not in Westminster, as he thinks, but among national senior ranks, inspectorates, staff associations and in Cardiff Bay. Will he stand for local people and fight his party masters, as he accused me of failing to do? We will see.

He and his colleagues inherit these reforms with much to do. We all get to judge them in 2020, when candidates will again be running scenarios through their minds. I wish them well.

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Polling Day

It’s polling day! Don’t forget to vote.

Today, you get your chance. You get your say on how we keep ourselves safe over the next four years.

The person you elect as Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys will control £100m of your money. They will chose the next Chief Constable. And they will decide the priorities for keeping us safe.

I hope people will vote for my positive plan for safer homes, safer communities and safer businesses.

I hope they will support the work I’ve done to deliver more officers for more time on our streets, to get crime and antisocial behaviour down more here than anywhere else in Wales; and to cut the cost of policing to local households.

Whatever happens, it has been a huge honour to have served as the first Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys, to establish the office and to work with the hundreds of wonderful people in uniform who protect us every day.

Whatever happens I am proud to have worked with them, proud to have been able to serve the public and I’d like to say just this: “Diolch yn fawr. Thank you”.

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The Choice

Campaigning is tiring. Canvassing can be monotonous and demoralising one minute, unexpected and life-affirming the next. It changes with the weather, the landscape or the mood of the last person you spoke to.

But we do it for a reason. It works. One of the great glories of our democracy is that people in power have to turn up on the doorsteps of ordinary folk every few years and ask for their support. Hundreds of conversations take place over rickety fences and weather-beaten door mats. Every so often one captures the choice facing a thousand others.

I approached one door in Pembrokeshire last Saturday. The sun was out. A man on his way to clean his car looked up. I introduced myself.

“I know who you are,” came the immediate response, then a pause.

“Can I count on your support?” I asked.

“It’s confusing,” came the reply. I didn’t know quite what he meant. “I’m a Llanelli man, you see. I’ve always known how to vote.” I guessed this was not Conservative.

“Ok. Why confusing?” I asked. Then another pause.

“I like what you are doing,” he began, “I’ve read what you’ve written. I like what you say. I don’t really disagree with anything you’ve done. It’s like last time. I knew your opponent. She was a good person, but… I used to know how I’d vote. I’m not so sure now.”

I made my point about the person elected controlling £100m of public money, choosing the next Chief Constable, setting taxes and deciding priorities. I made the point that, being an executive rather than legislative role, being police and crime commissioner was not particularly party political.

I got a smile and a response: “Yes. I know. I promise I will consider you. I promise. It’s confusing though. I used to just know.”

I may not support Labour but I understand the dilemma. It’s not easy to break the loyalty of a lifetime, possibly of generations. Loyalty to a cause is a good thing. And it’s not always easy to recognise that the people we oppose often share remarkably similar objectives. We all want to improve the lives of our fellow citizens.

I tell this story for two reasons. Obviously, I’d like people who normally vote Labour to vote for me. Of course I tried to persuade him and of course I hope my telling it persuades others. But I tell it also because this conversation seemed to capture so much of the choice facing voters, particularly Labour voters, at this election. And a large part of the outcome depends on what Labour voters decide to do.

Faced with a Labour candidate whose record as leader of Carmarthenshire County Council hardly inspires, I know many are questioning their decision. They are caught between the lacklustre choice of their own party and nationalist ideologues in Plaid Cymru. That leaves me, a Conservative, which is not an easy choice for a Labour man from Llanelli. I don’t imagine it’s any easier for a Labour woman from Ammanford either.

Ultimately, these people and many others across Carmarthenshire, Powys, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire will decide who is responsible for policing and keeping them safe. That in itself is a good thing. I have laid out my plans. I have made the case for the extra officers, increased support for victims, safer communities and lower bills that I have delivered.

All I know now is that the election will be close. Every vote will count. And – in case you are uncertain – the only safe choice is to vote Christopher Salmon for Police and Crime Commissioner on Thursday!

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