Truth be told, I get a tad nervy when a subject wants an interview via phone call. I worry of saying the wrong thing, or forgetting a fundamental question. Being I’ve chatted to Mike Rees, Wiltshire independent Police Crime Commissioner candidate on the dog and bone before, I’m quite looking forward to hearing from him. He is so down-to-earth it’s like chatting to an old friend.
At the time he was at his boxing class, where he teaches various age groups, but I felt Mike sounded rather exhausted and slightly more despondent than his usual cheery self. Naturally I opened with asking him how the campaigning was going. “It’s bloody hard work, to be honest, Darren,” he confessed, perhaps the very reason for his temperament. Mike runs a business, has the boxing gym to manage too, “and I’m trying to get this campaign stuff down. I keep getting requests for more leaflets, and I just can’t afford that. That’s my disadvantage.”
Hoping the focus will be entirely on Mike and his campaign, prior to the call I made a mental note not to mention, if possible, the other candidates and in particular, Conservative Johnathan Seed. But only a minute in I broke that rule, mainly because a post by Seedy popped on my Facebook newsfeed seconds before the call, and I noted it was sponsored by a company. Budget is everything when on a campaign trial, and Mike funds his himself.
However, sharing is caring on social media; I mainly see positivity for Mike, but newsfeeds are catered to taste, and there’s that silent majority. “Yeah,” he agreed, “it’s the people not on social media who are always going to vote Tory, no matter what. That’s the people I can’t really get to.”
This said, I’ve noted a number of known conservative thinkers in support of Mike, because the humdinger here is the importance of politics in the PCC role. Other candidates affiliated with a party insist this is political. I loved chatting to Lib Dem runner Liz Webster, though I asked Mike how he felt when, in the interview, she said he was “going for the wrong job!”
This was where Mike cheered up. “Yeah, chief constable; it did make me laugh! No, I don’t. It’s the last thing I want to do!” Mike knows exactly what the job involves. There’s this notion circulating we need a party-led politician for PCC, like calling a sparky for a plumbing job. Yet, in a political MP or councillor election anyone is free to run as an independent, and no one batters an eyelid. Mike agreed, informing me his focus is on the public, “on what the people want, you know. They have HMIC inspections and Wiltshire Police has come out as good. Do the public think that? I’m not sure they do. That’s what’s more important, not what HMIC says but what the pubic think about their policing.”
So, I put another negative comment from the book of face to him, which said “we don’t want a copper in the role because he’s institutionalised.” Mike retorted, he’s been out of the cops for seven years, and been running his own business, “and I’ve seen things from the other side. I’ve seen real poor police service, and seen some good stuff. There are good cops out there, but some bad service, and some stories I get told, I just put my head in my hands. As someone who worked for the police for thirty years, I understand what they’re going through. But I also get dismayed by it, because through my service we always wanted to do the best for the victim. It seems like they’re more concerned with policing themselves than they are about policing the public. So, I worry for the public perception of them.”
He reflected, “on my first day of training school, what we were taught; prevention and detection of crime, preservation of life and property, keeping the peace. That was the core function of the police, it just seems like we’ve lost sight of that, personally. We’ve become to politicised, and I don’t like it.”
One point Mike recently posted online, was concerning domestic abuse, stating he was disappointed with the House of Lords when 351 MPs rejected Amendment 42 of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which sought to instigate a national register of domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers. I wanted to ask Mike, how one governs a police force if you have to align with political decisions you personally disagree with. “Well,” he started, “I’m not afraid to speak up. This is what I see as an advantage for me; I don’t need the job, I’m going in there to try make things better, because I care. I could sit here and moan all day but someone’s got to put down we’re trying do something about it. A politician, I don’t think they think like that, they think rather differently. I understand what these people are dealing with on a daily basis, dealing with some horrible, nasty things, and the force is demoralised, recent federation survey showed us that, and things need to change.”
“If you’ve got a demoralised police force, it doesn’t matter what policies and procedures people are coming up with, nothing’s going to work. You’ve got to sort your workforce out first, and get them to follow you, be inspired by you; and that’s one of things I do.”
There’s been progression since we last spoke, and I felt the need to mention the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill protests, supposing the successful Wiltshire candidate is lucky in respect that while we’ve had a few protests, it’s relatively passive compared to Bristol. “No one’s got an issue with peaceful protest, have they?” Mike responded, with his “own views” about the Bill, “I don’t see the need for it, to be honest, I think the law is already there for what they’re trying to do. I don’t see the purpose it serves.”
“If the violence is there, it can be dealt with now, under the current laws.” Mike laughed off the concept a protest should be shut down if it gets too noisy, adding, “a slightly annoying protest? What’s that about? How can you judge ‘annoying’?!”
“Peaceful protest is an absolute right in a democratic society, isn’t it?” he asked me; like, yeah, I thought so too! “If you’re going to be violent, then you’re going to be dealt with, and I think you should be dealt with strongly. If you’re going to infiltrate and cause violence, then you have to be dealt with strongly, that’s the only way to deal with it.”
To find myself agreeing with the police must be an age thing, but I do on all Mike’s points! I only hope, on this reply, the ‘you’ he uses is proverbial and not a personal warning! That’s the key throughout our chat, he’s an agreeable bloke. I noted if one wants to be violent, they will, and we went through other examples in British history, like football violence. And herein is my respect for the police, because if you see a fight happening on the street, you cross the road, avoid it, but the Babylon, they’ve got to be the ones who go and sort it out. I confessed; I’d be completely shit at that! Mike relayed when, off duty, he stepped in to stop an unfair fight, “I told the lad who was getting a kicking to bugger off, which he did, then they set on me!” The point is, most politicians, I’d gather, would be like me, sheepishly walking away, hardly ‘community policing!’ Mike has been there, and knows the shop floor duties.
A serious note ensued, Mike felt we’d lost touch with community policing, “it’s really important to build up a relationship with the community, they feel reassured and they talk to you, and when they start talking, you find, who the criminals on the patch are. We seem to have lost all that, mostly down to lack of resources.” All candidates are requesting more funding is needed, in previous chats with Mike, he was adamant, while he agreed more funding is needed, it’s not the amount rather where and how it is spent. “It’s a combination of both,” he told, “but there’s a lot of money that’s wasted, I’ve seen it over the years, still hear stories now, that need looking at. The other candidates get to hear about that, because they don’t know people within the service, whereas I get to hear all that. Because people trust me, I have a good reputation.”
Pet crimes seemed to be a focus for other contenders, but Mike claimed he hadn’t seemed much evidence of that, and, comparably, it’s not so much of an issue in Wiltshire. More steam to the notion, you need a guy with his ear to ground and a rapport with the workforce. Rural crime is different, “it’s due to a lack of policing.” I added my tuppence on the lack of the Bobby on beat, and speed watching, and Mike agreed, adding volunteer community speed watchers felt they wasn’t getting supported by Wiltshire Police. “Road safety,” he stated, “is really important, you know. Would you rather have us tell you your house has been burgled or a loved one has been hit by a speeding car? Some say catching speeders when you should be catching real criminals, but what would you rather be told?”
What Mike wants to see, is specials working with the community speedwatch, “then they feel better because it’s being enforced, and everyone’s a winner!” Trust me to break the solemn tangent with a dig, “yep,” I replied, “get them out of the office, give ‘em some doughnuts and fresh air!” Ack, I used the doughnut gag, to the possible, and I very much hope it will be so, future police crime commissioner.
I wanted him to laugh it off, but he was feeling pessimistic about his chances, “I still think Mr Seed will get it, due to huge number of votes I have to get.” It was a sour point to end on, but I didn’t type this up for nothing. Yet Mike’s cynicism has the span of seconds, joking, “and I’ve only nine friends!!” Although we love the cut off Mike’s jib, without the equal campaign budget, it is up to us, to share his social media posts, and posters, this interview, and let our friends know, we don’t necessarily need a paper-pushing office-bearer in this role, if you agree, we need a fellow of shop floor experience. And man, I’ve not even mentioned fox hunting!
I did end on a topical subject for our arts and music-based zine, and asked Mike about pop crime; “can we get Rick Astley arrested, or Ace of Base, or Venga Boys?”
“He should’ve been sent down years ago!” Mike replied, but retracted it on the grounds he does a cover of AC-DC, “and that sort of stuff, so he’s gone up in my estimation!” What a genuinely great bloke! All the best Mike, we’re rooting for you.
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