Almost a year ago I blogged in favour of the concept of Police and Crime Commissioners.
My 22 July blog post NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION set out what I considered to be the case for change. I believed then, and still do, that the person who is politically accountable for the actions and expenditure of a police authority should be directly accountable to those whose taxes pay for those services.
It is no secret that I ran Craig Mackinlay's unsuccessful campaign as Conservative candidate for Kent Police & Crime Commissioner. It was a hard campaign and a bruising experience for all of us involved. I have been an apparatchik long enough to take the blows, and providing laws aren't broken, I seldom complain about opposition tactics.
We made some mistakes, especially by allowing those around Mrs Barnes to set the terms of the narrative. In our defence, this happened long before Craig Mackinlay was selected. However, from day one we were on the back foot as Mrs Barnes' well funded campaign grabbed headlines with accusations that we were politicising the police. The irony that Mrs Barnes' only consistent campaign message was being crafted and spun by her Liberal Democrat campaign manager who had three times stood for parliament, seemed to be overlooked by both voters and the media.
As the campaign progressed I tried to get the local media to focus on her record and question her independence. Most journalists I briefed admitted that they too thought she was a Lib Dem, or at least backed by them (there was no Lib Dem candidate). However, as one told me, "she's the only candidate who can give you guys a run for your money - so we are giving her an easy ride to try and spice-up the contest." Obviously I couldn't brief that I thought we were going to lose as this would have been reported as "Tories face defeat in November poll". It was therefore little consolation when at Dover Guildhall, where the votes were being tallied, when the same journalist said to me, "if we knew she was going to win we would have asked more difficult questions." Indeed.
So, six months later, how has she done?
Well, her first act was to appoint her Lib Dem campaign manager (Peter Carroll) and his business associate (Howard Cox) who also worked on her campaign, as her paid advisors on six month contracts. These were part time roles with taxpayer-fund salaries of £6,000 per month each. (Annually this equates to £72,000 each - more than three times the salary of a police constable).
Then we had the absolute debacle over the appointment of a Youth Police Commissioner, which not only damaged Mrs Barnes' personal credibility but also turned her entire operation into a national laughing-stock. See HERE.
And now it is reported that the two personal advisors who allowed her to get into this mess have both been re-appointed on the same £6,000 per month salaries (each!) for a further six months.
Long before Mrs Barnes publicly declared that she would stand for election (but interestingly after she had registered her campaign website) she wrote (HERE),
"It's no secret that the Kent Police Authority members oppose directly elected commissioners, we see them as unnecessary. They will have no different or additional powers than the current police authorities, and are a wilful waste of public money."
A prescient comment indeed.