PCC by-election: the candidates and their promises
Among the four candidates vying to become the next Northumbria police and crime commissioner (PCC) is a politician promising to treat drug use as a health issue and the region’s first ever independent PCC candidate.
On July 18, residents of Northumbria will go to the polls in a by-election that resulted from the first time a PCC has stepped down mid-term to take on another role – Dame Vera Baird resigned in May after she was appointed Victims Commissioner by the Home Secretary.
The three main political parties have put forward candidates, including the Liberal Democrat’s Jonathan Wallace, who says he will emulate the stance taken by Durham’s PCC and chief constable in targeting dealers but seeking treatment for addicts rather than prosecution.
One independent councillor – anti-corruption campaigner Georgina Hill – has also entered the race to succeed Dame Vera, promising to take politics out of policing.
There were also four people seeking election in 2012 and 2016, but UKIP, which fielded candidates in both polls, has not put anyone forward.
The main areas of contention are the closure of police stations, especially cells in the north of the region, and police visibility.
Labour candidate Kim McGuinness is the overwhelming favourite to win the election. She is seeking to retain the seat won with 53 per cent support at the poll in 2016 – Dame Vera secured 180,479 votes to her nearest (Conservative) rival’s 58,713.
However, with violent offences up by a quarter and public disorder offences up by 38 per cent, Ms McGuinness is blaming rising crime solely on government cuts.
With candidates equally balanced on gender, it is a relatively youthful election for PCCs. Labour and the Conservatives have put forward 34-year-olds, the independent candidate is 41 and the Liberal Democrat is the oldest at 55.
All four are serving councillors, two on Northumberland County Council and one each on Gateshead and Newcastle City Councils.
In the 2016 PCC election, just 26.6 per cent of the electorate voted, despite taking place on the same day as local elections. In Northumbria, turnout was 32 per cent.
In November 2012, when PCCs were first introduced and voters were asked to go to the polls solely to elect PCCs, turnout was just 15.1 per cent nationally (16.4 per cent in Northumbria).
Commentators have predicted turnout in July could be as low as ten per cent and with a lack of national media coverage and the short notice, candidates will find it hard to convey their messages to the public in what is a vast constituency.
It is the first time an independent candidate has stood in Northumbria, however, candidates fighting on an anti-corruption platform elsewhere fared well in 2012, but the challenge of reaching such a huge geographical area with very limited funds meant the number of candidates from outside of the main political parties fell in 2016.
The four candidates are:
Georgina Hill – Independent
Ms Hill, a barrister and anti-corruption campaigner, is fighting under the slogan ‘No fear, no favour, no politics’.
The 41-year-old Berwick East independent representative on Northumberland Council has vowed to take politics out of policing.
Her pledges include ensuring complex fraud cases are properly investigated, not allowing political correctness to obstruct the process of justice and the pursuit of criminals and to reverse the “short-sighted decision over the opening times of police stations and custody suites”, which she considers to have “led to a reduction in arrests and a big spike in anti-social behaviour”.
Ms Hill will find it difficult to challenge the Liberal Democrat and Conservative candidates for second place without considerable publicity. With an expected low turnout, she can not rely on party machinery and support to boost her share of the vote.
Kim McGuinness – Labour
Ms McGuinness, the 34-year-old representative for Lemington on Newcastle City Council, said: “People deserve to feel safe. To do that we need a Labour PCC to stand up for communities across Northumberland and Tyne and Wear and get the police resources they need.”
Her election address is short on pledges apart from standing up to Westminster, making police visibility a priority and to “focus on the basics that people expect, that police are on our streets fighting crime and keeping communities safe”.
Jonathan Wallace – Liberal Democrat
Mr Wallace at 55 is by far the oldest in the race. He has extensive experience in politics, having been a councillor since 1987 and stood in the 2016 PCC election, coming last.
As well as having a different stance on drugs, he is the only candidate who says PCCs should be abolished and supports the Liberal Democrat policy to replace them with a police authority–style governance arrangement.
In the Gateshead Council Opposition leader’s election address, he says: “The office of PCC has proved expensive, ineffective, and unnecessary. I support its abolition and returning police oversight to a board of councillor and community representatives.”
Among his pledges are reopening cells in Northumberland to avoid officers having to travel excessive distances with prisoners and to emulate the approach taken by Durham Police on drugs policing.
“Drug use should be a public health priority rather than a police priority and police resources targeted at dealers not users,” he suggests.
Robbie Moore – Conservative
Mr Moore is the Conservative candidate attempting to buck his party’s current unpopularity by promising to protect the vulnerable and refocus the force towards community policing.
The 34-year-old chartered surveyor, who represents Alnwick on Northumberland County Council, attacked Dame Vera’s record, which included a rise in recorded crime of 87 per cent in four years.
Mr Moore promised to get “more bobbies on the beat”.
“Vulnerable residents and communities will be at the heart of my policing strategy. It is vital that we all feel safe and protected from harm,” he said.
“I am determined to see crime rates significantly reduced and I will be a strong advocate for victims of crime and violence.”
His four pledges are to:
- Ensure all levels of crime across urban and rural areas are dealt with;
- Refocus policing strategy to be community focused;
- Increase the presence of police officers on the street; and
- Be a strong advocate for the most vulnerable in society.