PCC election: Thames Valley candidates meet electorate

Thames Valley PCC candidates
Image caption The Thames Valley police and crime commissioner candidates faced questions from an audience at Reading Town Hall

In three weeks time, the public will have their chance to elect the first ever police and crime commissioner.

The Thames Valley will be one of the largest police forces for the new role to oversee, covering a diverse region of three counties and serving an estimated population of 2.2 million.

As national publicity for the election stutters into life, the Thames Valley candidates staged a debate at Reading Town Hall in a bid to kick-start their own campaigns and engage with the electorate.

Questions were fielded on a range of topics including anti-social behaviour, serious crime and dealing with the threat of terrorism.

But, despite more than two hours of discussion between the candidates, the audience gave a very lukewarm reaction to the panel of six.

Indeed, when the number of journalists, local councillors and campaigners were subtracted from within the room, the audience probably totalled no more than 20.

An indicator of an apathetic and uninformed electorate perhaps.

Broad consensus

With that in mind, the candidates were asked what would they consider a minimum turnout on 15 November to give them a legitimate mandate to do the job?

Image caption Thames Valley Police is the largest non-metropolitan force in England

There was a hint of variety in the responses, but as was the case for most of the evening, consensus prevailed.

Tim Starkey, the Labour candidate, said: "Beyond the first few weeks, the number of people who come out and vote won't be an issue.

"The job will be about representing the public's interests and any mandate shouldn't be taken for granted, whatever the turnout."

Patience Awe, one of two independent candidates, added: "This is going to be the most significant reform of the police for a generation.

"It's an opportunity to empower the people and truly meet their needs. I think people are beginning to become more aware of this election and its significance."

'Common sense approach'

UKIP's Barry Cooper believes turnout will be irrelevant as long as the job is done effectively.

He said: "Time will be the true indicator. As long as someone takes a common sense approach, that will prove its legitimacy."

"If elected, I will take the turnout for what it is and get on with being the representative of the people," said Liberal Democrat John Howson.

He added: "Not everyone across the Thames Valley will be voters or be affected by the same issue. But, I'd urge as many people as possible to go out and vote as crime matters to everyone."

The other independent Geoff Howard pointed to the problem of the national agenda clouding the local campaign and stressed the role should be "apolitical".

He said: "Party politics need taking out of the equation as it will threaten the impartiality of this job.

"If there's going to be a crisis on your hands, the last thing you want is someone going back to their party's manifesto or agenda to see what they should do next."

Conservative Anthony Stansfeld believes the public should see the candidates as "representatives" rather than "party delegates".

He said: "I will support whoever and whatever I think is right for the majority of the Thames Valley.

"I think we know it's going to be a low turnout, but personally I believe the legitimacy comes from winning the election and getting more votes than anyone else."

The proof will ultimately be in the numbers who do or do not exercise their democratic right on 15 November.

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