The Liberal Democrat Federal Executive (FE) decided this week that the federal party will not be providing any financial backing to Liberal Democrats wishing to stand for election as Police Commissioners. The expectation is that instead the party will end up backing independent candidates, although it has been made clear that local areas can decide to field candidates if they wish to – albeit without any financial backing from the central party.
The strong preference given, however, is for Liberal Democrats to back independent candidates. As FE chair and Party President Tim Farron wrote to regional parties:
Individual Liberal Democrats may support non party candidates. This is a continuation of the view that Liberal Democrats in government and parliament have been expressing as the legislation has gone through Westminster: that whilst effective accountability of the police is essential, it is imperative that operational policing does not become a political football.
The wording of the Federal Executive decision leaves open the option of helping to fund the campaigns of independent candidates and it has been made clear that, unless there is an official Lib Dem candidate, party members will be free to campaign for any “appropriate” independent candidate.
The use of “appropriate” provides a check against party members campaigning for an extreme candidate, such as one from the BNP, as members so doing could be expelled from the party. It also leaves open the question of whether in some contests different Liberal Democrat members may end up backing different candidates after the same post.
There was a lively debate and vote at the Federal Executive to decide on this policy which, as the party’s democratically accountable senior decision making body, is the right way to do things. But the tradition of such votes is that lists of who voted which way are not published – which means that when it comes to voting for members of the Federal Executive, the voters do not know some basic pieces of information about how the incumbents re-standing have acted whilst in office. However if, in the interests of transparency, any Federal Executive members wish to say which way they voted, by all means post a comment…
UPDATE: For more on the question of federal committee decision making and secrecy, see Should the way members of federal committees vote be public?