A Chat with Wiltshire PCC Candidate Liz Webster

“Perhaps it will take electing a determined and feisty female Lib-Dem to turn that around in standing up for our Police and communities.” Wiltshire PCC Candidate Liz Webster opened up about her life, priorities for the role, and her reasons for standing….

If our jolly chinwag with Wiltshire Police Crime Commissioner candidate, Johnathon Seed, last month went supernova, hijacked with best intentions by those offended with field sports (oops, did I say field sports, when I meant the inglorious barbaric biota slaughter dressed as a requisite pageant?) and we found solace with the hospitable dude, Mike Rees, who independently campaigns for the same position, it’s all kind of, I dunno, left me in limbo.

My apologies if you came here looking for impartiality, you should know by now, I don’t dither on traditionalisms. Still, I’m between a rock and hard place, questioning the necessity for politics within this PCC job thingy, as while Rees favours his wealth of on-the-job experience, Seed is adamant politics is essential.

I went searching for a third opinion, and found it with the Liberal Democrat’s PCC candidate, Liz Webster. But I discovered more than I bargained for. Away from campaigning, Liz runs a farm with her husband and stressed her passion for the future of farming. “It’s calving season,” she explained, “and I’m deeply worried about trade deals that will be a disaster for our environment, animal welfare, food standards and for shoppers and farmers alike.” Liz and her husband set up campaign website, Save British Farming, protesting the Government’s current Agriculture and Trade Bills.

I didn’t want to dwell on my aforementioned ruckus, wanted the focus today to be what she would bring to the table, but I felt it imperative to ask Liz for her views on fox hunting, if she encourages the law to be upheld on these matters, oh and the boy’s ruckus too!

“I’m too busy responding to residents’ concerns about speeding, anti-social behaviour, domestic violence, pet theft, police station closures, drug dealers and cyber-crime to pay attention to personal spats between other candidates,” she stated.

“However, I have had very many anxious residents ask me asking about fox hunting, so here is where I stand. As an animal lover and keen horse rider when young, I have never had any involvement in hunting‎. My husband and I farm at the northern tip of Wiltshire‎ and we work with Matt Prior on his Marlborough Downs: Space for Nature project to conserve and protect wildlife on our farm.”

“Animal welfare matters to me. which is why I’ve been campaigning for Wiltshire Police to treat the crime of pet theft much more seriously, and I’m having some success. I want the law strengthened in this area. Protecting our pets, farmed animals and wildlife is important.”

“If the voters of Wiltshire and Swindon vote me in as our next Police and Crime Commissioner‎, I will urge that all laws to protect our animals, including our wildlife, are respected and that we investigate and prosecute those that break the law.”

Below is an extract of a recently published article which Liz penned. The section sets out her views on the issue, and farmed animal welfare, “which aligns with the vast majority of our citizens,” Liz expressed, “and against those of our current Prime Minister, and apparently my Conservative opponent.”

Take the latest discovery of his (Boris Johnson) opinions on foxhunting laws from an article he wrote for the Spectator in 2005. In it, he said: “It is like skiing, in that you are personally tracing, at speed, the contour of the landscape, and then there is the added interest of the weird semi-sexual relation with the horse, in which you have the illusion of understanding and control. There is the military-style pleasure of wheeling and charging as one, the emulative fun of a pseudo-campaign.” [our emphasis]

Boris Johnson, 2005

He argued that the foxhunting ban was “a Marxian attack” by the Labour government on the upper classes and nothing to do with animal cruelty, and he urged foxhunters to break the law and keep killing animals.

Bizarre that he should totally disregard the will of the people that is still overwhelmingly against hunting, irrespective of the relationship with the horse, semi-sexual or otherwise.

It’s one rule for them and another for us: let them eat chlorinated chicken and hormone infused meat! Boris Johnson also completely ignores the will of the people on food and animal welfare standards.

Recent polls have shown that between 80 and 90% of the public are aligned against lowering our standards to help deliver a quick and grubby USA trade deal.

Righteousness aside, I’m forever baffled by his weird semi-sexual relation with the horse, but I’m too nauseated to ponder deeper, and there’s not much which dribbles from his Gugelhupf-hole that makes sense to me. But we must push on, the importance of politics in the duties of police crime commissioner is my kingpin, and I asked Liz, “why?”

“Our Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) takes decisions that impact on all of us,” Liz replied. “They set the strategic priorities for our Police Force. Those decisions will reflect their values, those values are why people join together in political parties. The political alignment of the candidates should provide voters with assurances and clues about how those decisions will made.”

“My values are liberal; that means being open, tolerant, caring and respectful of others, being inclusive, strong on the importance of communities and our environment but also willing to listen and to compromise to make real progress. For example, I believe that putting real effort and resources into community cohesion will prevent crime and limit damage.  That’s why I’m ‎a Liberal Democrat.”

“Now that we, the people get to choose our PCC it is important that we know their values, where they stand on the key issues and what their priorities are. Mine are set out in my Plan for Wiltshire. I have experienced very directly the reality of inadequate action, funding and systemic failure. That woke me up to the reality that I should not stand quietly and watch but get involved‎ to prevent it happening to others.”

If you supposed Liz Webster just woke up one day and thought, I know, I fancy being police crime commissioner, think again. The revelation came to her a decade ago, when her eldest son, Henry, was the victim of a hate crime in one of Wiltshire’s schools. “He was attacked by a gang with hammer. Like all parents, I trusted The Ridgeway School and the Local Council who are the Education Authority to be responsible for my children’s safety while they were at school.

“When they failed to protect Henry,” Liz expressed, “that fundamental belief ensured I campaigned hard for three and half years for real change and eventually succeeded in getting an independent inquiry (Serious Case Review) published. That set out the lessons that had to be learnt to stop horrific attacks on children from happening again. I have written an article which touches on some of these lessons.”

“The Conservatives say they dislike ‘big government.’ Their grip on power over the last decade has seen our public services cut to the bone. Wiltshire Police – already at the bottom of the funding league table – has suffered deeply damaging cuts at the hand of Conservatives. This has ensured that our communities are less safe and left our police force feeling undervalued.”

“Seven Conservative MPs, two Conservative Councils and a Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner (and all mostly male)‎ have allowed this to happen. Perhaps it will take electing a determined and feisty female LibDems to turn that around in standing up for our Police and communities.”

Liz has said, “Wiltshire is one of the lowest funded police forces in the country because of an outdated formula which favours densely populated urban counties,” a notion also high on Johnathon Seed’s agenda. Yet while Liz recently wrote to the Home Secretary, she hasn’t responded. Meanwhile, hey-ho, pictures are circulating of Mr Seed blushing over Priti Patel as if she was Marilyn Monroe, (with a decided lack of facemask and social distancing measures I might add, though perhaps being beside the point!)

Isn’t this proof of a self-righteous, monopolising attitude with conservatives, where taking total control of not only government but our councils and policing too is paramount; there’s no room for any alternative? You don’t got to answer that; I put it Liz!

“The Conservatives are all about being in power,” she replied, (you think?!) “Both they and the Labour Party centralise power. Liberals believe in decentralising power. That’s why I’m passionate about setting up and properly supporting Community Safety Forums and making sure our senior Police Officers attend and listen to residents’ real concerns.”

“They make campaign promises are not anchored in reality, like my Conservative opponent’s pledge to recruit an extra one hundred police officers with no explanation of the vast increase in the precept that it will take to get anywhere near this or the vast practical problems of getting it done.”

“I want our Government to fairly fund Wiltshire Police and to be smart about how we use technology and increased community engagement to tackle and prevent crime and get local parish, town and Wiltshire and Swindon Borough Councils working with charities, school, businesses and volunteers alongside our Police.”

“The Conservative candidate is attacking the policies of the Conservative incumbent PCC, the Conservative Council, of which he is a member, and the Conservative Government that he surely voted for. He is gaslighting his past very active campaigning to get rid of the hunting ban, ignoring the fact that he has spent four years sitting on the Police and Crime Panel where all these issues and policies on the Police estate were discussed, just to try to get himself elected.”

“Both the Labour and Conservative PCC candidates have been sitting councillors on the Police and Crime Panel and yet neither have installed cost effective technology to deal with speeding in their wards and neither said a word about the police station closures until now.”

“As PCC I will be straight forward with people, ‎make communications and community engagement my priority. Look at smart ways and good ideas being used by other police forces. Look to get our Police, local councils, schools, businesses and community organisation working together rather than against each other.”

I’ll tip my cap, shine your shoes for a shilling, guvnor and suppose it’s the working class in me which, throughout my warming to Liz and her policies, maintain clarity in Mike Rees’s argument; a PCC with on-hand experience is greater than a political standpoint.

Her angle and priority on rural theft of pets, trees and hedges, no matter how big the budget, and how many new officers are employed, in a rural setting cannot be everywhere all the time. Ergo, a bigger budget allowing more officers and resources will solve crimes and capture criminals more efficiently, but it’s not as proactive in preventing crimes as on-hand experience. Learned that from Telly Savalas, they call it “the hunch!”

But Liz thinks, “unfortunately, I think Mike Rees is standing for the wrong job. I think we wants to be Chief Constable not our Police and Crime Commissioner. Judging by his comments, so does my Conservative opponent.  A Police and Crime Commissioner is not a military or police operational role. No one standing in this election should be trying to replace our Chief Constable.”

Yeah, but Mike looks more like Telly Savalas than Liz does!

“The role of the PCC is to involve our communities, enhance their support for and engagement with our Police to make our lives safer. They are also required to listen to the public and give candid feedback and direction when community needs are not being met or when real issues like pet theft are being ignored or downgraded.”

“The PCC is there to set the strategy for safer communities and to influence how policing is delivered to prevent crime and protect people and ensure that victims voices are heard. They are a bridge between the people and the police.”

“A successful PCC should strive to deliver less crime, less victims, safer communities and a happier police force. You do that by making good collegiate decisions and by working effectively with others that can help deliver those goals.”

“My family were victims in one of Wiltshire’s more high-profile cases back in 2007 when Wiltshire Police was run by the Police Authority and not by the PCC. We found that as the victims of this horrific crime we were marginalised. The whole emphasis was on the prosecution of the case and the protection of the offenders.”

“My son and several of the offenders were minors. But my son did not get same protection as his attackers. To this day some of them enjoy the luxury of anonymity as their identities were protected from the media. My son’s pictures and our address were printed in newspapers within hours of the attack. We had no help to deal with the media onslaught at the same time as we dealt with a serious medical emergency.”

“If I am elected, one of my key jobs I will ensure that Wiltshire Police are reminded to that the victims of crime need real help and support.”

It’s inspiring motivation from a moving and terrible incident, summed up by her campaign’s strapline:  Offering a more victim-led and preventative approach to the role of Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner. But how do we prevent rural crime such as the aforementioned animal theft, and even speeding through sleepy villages, when they’re so hard to police due to the openness of the countryside?

“Farming in a very rural corner of Wiltshire,” Liz started, “I am thoroughly awake to the difficulties we face dealing with rural crime. That’s why I have put forward practical policies that will help tackle such crimes. For example, I want to immediately abolish the position of deputy PCC. After discussions with our Chief Constable, I want that money used for a Traveller liaison officer to ensure cohesion throughout our rural communities.”

“I want to create a county wide DNA database for livestock to tackle sheep and cattle rustling, a growing area of violent, organised crime. This approach would combine that with reaching out to ensure all Farm vehicles and items are logged and safely returned.”

“I am committed to using smart and cost-effective camera technology to tackle speeding in our villages and rural areas. This will empower our excellent Community Speed Watch teams.  It will identify those driving without paying their road tax and deter and detect offenders of rural crime.

Liz recently posted thoughts on an article about what controls the state should be allowed to hold on to once things start to get back normal, as Covid infections and fatalities reduce. She wrote, “the balance between safety and freedom is an eternal tug of war, but it’s paramount that the suspensions of freedoms agreed in a health emergency don’t become permanent.” But with government’s talk of free speech reform, and scrapping the bill of human rights, on top of predicted poverty increases due to economic downturn, tensions are bound to mount. How would police in Wilts under Liz’s control react to possible protests, racist and hate crime, and acts of violence bought about by this tension?

“My values are centred in the Human Right Act” Liz affirmed, “it is effectively the incorporation of the document, drafted in large part by the UK, post the atrocities of the Second World War – the European Convention on Human Rights – of which the UK is a founding member. To withdraw from a commitment that guaranteed certain rights for all, regardless of your political affiliation is anti-British.”

“It is of great concern that the economic and financial impacts of Covid19 could see tensions run high. That is why we need a PCC who will make communicating with the public a priority and really values community engagement, as I do. A PCC who will, through social interventions and crime prevention policies seek to settle tensions rather than preside over their explosion.”

“As a mother I experienced directly what happens if things are ignored and tensions are allowed to build to flashpoint; it ends in violence and threat to life, to the life of my son, Henry. Having lived through that nightmare, I would never sit by and allow that to happen to other families. I am someone who wants to enjoy living in a county which is free and safe.”

“The rights to free speech and peaceful protest are fundamental. They have been respected in our country down the years. The tolerant attitude they represent alongside the rule of law is part of why Britain has been respected around the world. But should protest or hate speech break the law, lead to damage and violence then, of course, the lawbreakers must be held to account and brought to justice, whoever they are.”

Very liberal response! But that’s where its advantageous to have a Lib Dem PCC, rather than another Conservative who’ll surely simply toe the line. “Yes, I can confirm that I am a Liberal Democrat,” Liz said. “Within our broad set of Liberal principles, I am free to think for and be myself. To use my strengths to communicate openly and honestly without being told what to do or say. The Conservative Party has become increasingly extreme and intolerant, forcing out good people because they disagreed with Brexit and had the courage to say so. No wonder Nigel Farage was happy to instruct his candidates to stand down at the General Election and so many UKIP members joined the Conservative Party. Another Conservative PCC will see more of the same. Wiltshire will stay at the bottom of the funding pile.”

I don’t know about you, but all I see these days, perhaps due to lockdown, is internet and phone scams. It’s an international issue rather than county, but does Liz think police could do better in this area? “More international action is needed to control the internet and telephone scams,” she explained, “but yes with such a widespread issue the only answer is to educate and support people as best we can. This is why the PCC needs to have the ability and motivation to work closely with other those who support vulnerable people in our communities. Our businesses, particularly the smaller ones and those run by self-employed people are also an increasing target of these cyber criminals.   I have a meeting with a women’s business group next week to discuss the increasing levels of crime they are experiencing. I will report back on this issue.”

Domestic abuse rising is another topical post hot on Liz’s social media campaign, stressing the importance of calling a helpline. “Perhaps as the only female candidate this issue of domestic abuse is high on my agenda,” she expressed. “It highlights the need for far more education and empowerment of women. That is the real way of breaking this dire crime that means people cannot feel safe in their own homes.”

“I also welcome and back enthusiastically the Ask Ana initiative. This has seen training staff in pharmacies to enable victims of domestic abuse to simply “ask for Ana‎”. That code will see them taken into the pharmacy private space and be linked to trained police and support staff. This is a great example of what I mean by harnessing all of our communities’ various resources to combat crime and keep people safe.”

“I am also fully committed to ensuring the essential services offered by Domestic Abuse charities are properly funded and resourced. I have met with the leaders of our domestic abuse refuge in Swindon. If I am elected, I will go above what has already been done to ensure this vital service is protected.”

I’m grateful to Liz, and immediately warmed to her and her campaign, she has good sense of direction, motivation for engaging positively and justly in the role, and given her save British Farming campaign, will no doubt have a close and honoured connection with Wiltshire folk.

I’m supposing now there may be a need for political perspective within the role of PCC, however much I’ve taken to Mike’s approach. If so, I believe we must not take this disheartening conception that there is no alternative, as red. You’re welcomed to name-call, assume my political stance, but I’m growing evermore sceptical of the nodding dog which is Keir Starmer, but I won’t bow to this Tory appropriation; there is an alternative, and perhaps, just perhaps Police Crime Commissioner is a great place to start the trial.

I thank Liz for taking time out of her busy schedule on the campaign trail, which you can find out more about here, and wish her all the very best. Still, none of them will beat Kojak in my honest opinion; cootchie-coo, he loves ya, baby!


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