A return to the campaign trail for a high profile figure – who as well as inspiring his supporters may mobilise his opponents to campaign more vigorously than in the previous Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections in Cambridgeshire
Nick Clarke is the former leader of Cambridgeshire County Council where he headed the Conservative majority until 2013. Shortly before the 2015 general election, Mr Clarke left the Conservatives to join UKIP.
Mr Clarke’s announcement of his PCC candidature is here. Make of it what you will – I’ll hold fire until we know who is standing on what platforms so I can compare them all.
As far as local UKIP figures go, I can’t think who else immediately would spring to mind as an alternative high profile candidate other than perhaps Cllr Peter Reeve, who sits on Cambridgeshire County Council as one of twelve UKIP councillors. While UKIP saw their 2015 general election vote in Cambridge City cut in half from what it was in the European elections in 2014, the northern half of the county has provided more richer electoral pickings for the party compared to the south of the county.
Puffles & Mr Clarke sparring in the 2014 local government elections
Mr Clarke, then a Conservative, had to share a public platform with Puffles back in 2014 when I stood as Puffles in the Coleridge ward in the Cambridge City Council elections. (Do you want to hear my opening speech? Really? Go on then – it’s here:
This was at the Kings Politics Society hustings (see http://www.tcs.cam.ac.uk/news/0032486-calls-for-city-council-to-stand-up-more-to-cambridge-university-in-king-s-question-time-debate.html). Given the choice going after the other party political candidates, or a dragon, Mr Clarke left the dragon alone (leaving me & Puffles to pick on Cllr Cantrill of the Lib Dems who chose perhaps unwisely to lead off on his party’s record in Coalition) but still found himself in hot water with the audience given his widely-publicised views on climate change. At least for the PCC elections climate change is less likely to be an issue given the context of those elections. I can almost imagine Mr Clarke responding to such questions with:
“Climate change has got nothing to do with being a police & crime commissioner – ask me a question about crime in Cambridgeshire, that’s where we are!” In the style of Nigel Farage.
I’ve known Mr Clarke for a few years now, and he and I disagree on a whole range of policies. In the grand scheme of things he knows I see him as a climate sceptic and that he sees me as a bit of a tree-hugging eco-warrior who quite likes the idea of making social media use compulsory for councillors in Cambridge who refuse to use it…while making it voluntary for councillors who are happy to use it. 😀 But we both know where we stand and have over the years and I can’t recall ever having had an argument or a falling out with him. Our conversations have always been friendly despite our political differences. That’s not been the case with everyone by any means though – animosity towards him from his party political opponents (in particular the Conservatives & Liberal Democrats) runs far higher than with other UKIP councillors.
Falling out with former political colleagues
Former Conservative county councillor Shona Johnstone (who I also have known for a few years & get on with) tweeted this to Puffles earlier:
This stems from events in 2012 here, and 2013 here, which in part relate to the previous contest for the county’s PCC. Without commenting on the merits of either side of the dispute (I don’t wanna get sued), with hindsight I think it’s a shame Ms Johnstone didn’t stand as the Conservative candidate as I think she would have been more accessible and more people friendly than the successful candidate and eventual election winner, former Luton MP Sir Graham Bright.
Looking through archived tweets, it’s difficult to ignore the negative comments on Twitter coming from current and former councillors from the three main parties who happen to be women. Will those archived tweets become the subject of arguments between candidates in the looming elections or will they be seen as ancient history? Will Mr Clarke reflect on those past clashes and consider whether he needs to change his approach towards his political opponents? I’ll leave that to the politicians.
“Who will stand against Mr Clarke in Cambridgeshire?”
The political context is very different to 2012 across the county – not least the increase in UKIP councillors on the county council rising from 2 to 12. The general election has been and gone – not delivering the expected rise in UKIP MPs. At the same time, we’ve seen a reduction in the number of Liberal Democrat councillors. (Although their membership has bounced back to 2010 levels at around 60,000 nationwide). Labour have the huge Corbyn wave, and we may even see The Greens standing too, following their surge in members of late 2014/early 2015.
As a political contest, former Cambridge MP Dr Julian Huppert – who was on the Home Affairs Select Committee during his time in Parliament – would make a very strong adversary and put clear policy daylight between the two candidates (as well as both having very different but equally confident public speaking styles).
No clear candidates stand out for The Greens, Labour or Conservatives as yet. We also don’t know if new or more extreme fringe parties will stand. The resurgence of Labour and the presence of UKIP might dissuade such candidacies further to the left or right. It remains to be seen if the Women’s Equality Party stands candidates. (In 2012, all of the candidates were male).
With the incumbent Conservative PCC standing down, the Conservatives will need to find a new candidate. Will party incumbency help or hinder the Conservatives? It’ll be interesting to see if any of the remaining parties can find a candidate who is a former police officer. Given that other counties have returned women as their PCCs, which of the other Cambridgeshire political parties select women as candidates? Given the significant rise in party political membership since 2012, we could well see more women contesting their party’s candidature, as well as a slate of new candidates for the PCC elections in 2016.
The PCC elections will coincide with the local council elections across districts in Cambridgeshire. It could well be that the PCC elections provide an incentive for the left-liberal parties that dominate Cambridge City to unleash some of their activists into the surrounding rural districts. This matters particularly for Labour if they want to turn the membership growth they are claiming in Cambridgeshire into rural district council seats – and a shot at the office of PCC.