In the first round of Police and Crime Commissioner elections, the Liberal Democrats contested 59% of the seats (24 out of 41*). For the May 2016 round, it looks like there will be Liberal Democrat Police and Crime Commissioner candidates for 75% of the seats (30 out of 40**).
That’s a very welcome increase because standing candidates benefits both liberalism and the Liberal Democrats.
It benefits liberalism because it gives people a chance to vote for a liberal approach to policing, and gives publicity opportunities such as local media interviews, to present the liberal case on issues such as the Snoopers’ Charter and ID cards.
Leaving the contest simply to the illiberal parties cedes the debate to illiberals – and boycotting the elections is, frankly, about as ineffective a way of making a point about our dislike of the posts as the idea that I could stop Donald Trump by sending a tweet about him. I mean, remember how the credibility of those posts was shattered by our boycotts in 41% of the seats last time? No, me neither.
Contesting them is also good for the Liberal Democrats, as it helps rebuild our credibility. Some in the party I think under-estimate just how badly many voters react to turning up at a polling station and seeing no Liberal Democrat on the ballot paper. I don’t, or at least haven’t since the experience of fielding complaints from angry voters at party HQ one local election polling day.
Every voter gets to see whether or not there is a Lib Dem candidate (which is rather more than the far smaller number who find out the details of the election voting numbers in their specific patch afterwards).
Contesting these posts also gives a relatively easy opportunity to have a Lib Dem featuring in more press stories and at more public meetings as in the interests of political balance others readily invite us if we’re running but ignore us if we’re not.
They are also a great chance to try something different, on however small a scale, measure it and see what works. Indeed, not having the pressure of a contest being a close, winnable one, is in many ways the very best time to try something different or involve someone new, because the potential downsides of perfection not being achieved first time round are far lower.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, such contests give a ready opportunity to members to do something about liberal causes which often motivate their commitment to the party but don’t otherwise feature that heavily in the rest of our activity (which of course raises a point for discussion another day…).
* Initially the Federal Executive put people off standing in the elections as Liberal Democrat candidates, although that approach was modified in the face of internal criticism of its approach.
** 40 rather than 41 because Greater Manchester’s election has been postponed as part of the introduction of a directly elected Mayor in 2017.