About This Blog

The public should know all we can about the business of the decision makers that affect our lives, our wallets and our democracy. This is a record of my efforts to try and improve the levels of transparency and accountability within Sheffield City Council and others. To shine a light on how decisions are made and where the money goes. If I can also help others to find their own voice and influence along the way, then that is a bonus.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Sheffield Star & Telegraph - PCC Hustings on 22nd October 2014.

The Sheffield Star & Telegraph hosted a PCC Hustings event at Hallam University last night and I was there. The event should have been webcast live but technical issues first delayed the start of the event for 15 minutes and then we started in the hope that the technical issues would catch up later. The event is now available on the Star's website and on Youtube, I link to it below.

That being the case I am not going to deconstruct the whole event, you should watch it yourself and make up your own mind, but I am going to try and give my impressions of the event, the candidates and the way they answer questions. This will be purely subjective but may help you to judge the words they say alongside the other cues that I could pick up whilst in the audience.

The overall impression of the event was the level of 'management' involved. Almost all questions asked of the candidates were pre-selected and read out by the Editor of the Star, James Mitchinson. The lecture theatre in which the event took place was liberally padded by 'Party' supporters and the members of the undecided public, amongst the 100 or so people there, were very few indeed. There were also a number of students, naturally and I saw members of the Neighbourhood Watch, who would have been very disappointed that their role, as the biggest community group the PCC will connect with, went unmentioned.

Before the event started I spoke briefly with a reporter for BBC Radio 5 Live, don't know if the interview was used, who commented he was struggling to find someone not connected to a Party or an interested organisation, too few members of the public. He also talked about a 'vox pop' he had been doing in Rotherham that day. Apparently, although every person he spoke to knew about the election, none admitted to an intention to actually vote.

To begin the session James Mitchinson asked each candidate to take just 1 minute to give an opening comment or two. Walker (Conservative) went first and talked confidently and stressed his 'untainted by the events' status and his public first approach. Next came Clarkson (UKIP) He stood to address the event (odd) and reading from notes seemed to reiterate his written election material. Third was Billings (Labour) Spoke without notes and stressed the need to bring the community together and his independence from a Police background. Expressed with the quiet positivity one would expect from a 'reverend'. Lastly was Allen (English Democrats) Again spoke without notes but seemed diffident and lacking confidence in what he was saying.

Opening statements were followed by the question and answer portion of the evening. By the end we managed nine questions but with seven of those coming from pre selected written submissions and judging from the fluidity of the answers and Clarkson referring to notes I worry that they may have been seen by the candidates. Subjects were; four questions that revolved around the Rotherham tragedy, cleaning up the PCC role, victims seeing PCC as waste of money, promoting trust in the Police and the criminal investigation into the PCC. There were two questions that brought the independent criminologist into the discussion, on decriminalising low level drugs and how targets affect police focus. Then one question on road priorities and cycling.

The responses to the questions circling the Rotherham tragedy typically attempted to create distance between the candidates and the problem. No political connection (Allen, Clarkson & Walker) it's all Labours fault. No connection to the Police (Allen, Billings & Walker) anyone connected to the Police can't do the job right. So the blame game was under way early but at this stage fairly genteel. The other questions were actually quite pedestrian and the answers fairly predictable, drugs bad, cycling good, we need targets to judge performance. (despite the criminologist hinting that targets skew police behaviours in a manner that results in tragedies)

Next came my question, I was one of several that put their hands up but possibly because I was a member of the actual public I was chosen. I'm putting the full question here because on my feed the video stops and stutters and has cut out the question I ask Clarkson. (mistake or mischief?)

“How do you reconcile your particular party affiliation with this job role?
Billings – Labour involvement in the Rotherham scandal
Clarkson - £1M lurch to the extreme right of UKIP in Europe
Allen – Support for an English Parliament vs UK policing
Walker – The party that devised this failed legislation”

I think this was the first time in the meeting that they all looked uncomfortable, I was asking them to address the political aspect of their candidacy and they didn't like it.

You can hear the answers in full on the video but the interesting thing for me was their attitudes. Walker was affronted at the suggestion the legislation was a failure, support for the Party line. Clarkson was unable or unwilling to answer the question and seemed annoyed that I dare bring politics into it, that was their job. (followed by an anti Labour rant) Billings threw it back in Clarkson's face connecting him to the (non Labour) Police force and his service in that force during past indiscretions. Allen didn't get the link between the need for UK approaches on terrorism & International crime, but commented on difference between English and Scots law. (Wales and N.I. Seem not to matter)

The last question was about the PCC commitment to student needs and was back to safe territory for the candidates. At the end of questions the Star's editor gave each candidate the final opportunity for a brief comment. He then rounded the event off and everyone started to disperse.

This was quite an interesting point and my observations of the candidates were as follows. Allen left on his own and his demeanour was not that of a good night being had. Clarkson was hailed by his team like some sort of conquering hero whilst Billings maintained his serious reverend face with his supporters. Walker I lost sight of so don't know his state of mind at this point.

My overall impression of performances? Allen acts like the loser in the right wing contest. Billings is aiming at the calm reconciliation approach. Clarkson fixates on Labour involvement in Rotherham and 'getting it right'. Walker seems to aim for similarly serious ground to Billings' but touts the 'untainted' card too. All of them were a bit loose on their actual plans, Clarkson worst of all and only Billings and Walker were the least bit confident in their plans for some aspects of the job.

Personally I don't think any of them are up to the job. I actually don't think any one person is. To gather together a range of people with expertise in many areas, that affect the relationship of the Police with the public, and lead that process with a 'proportionally' representative group of elected people from throughout South Yorkshire would seem a better idea to me, but one politician or many politicians, they alone are not good enough for the job.

click here to go to the Star's website

Click here for YouTube version

No comments:

Post a Comment