Two opinion pieces from me in as many days; you lucky, lucky people! What I wouldn’t give to have two lofty opinion pieces from Devizine thrown at me once in a while!
As the news circulates that hunting bonkers Conservative PCC candidate for Wiltshire, Johnathan Seed is out of the race, we all can have a belly-laugh, especially Basil Brush. But rules are rules, and at this stage, seems WC will need to hold a second election, rather than the obvious, just pick the second-place candidate and roll with that.
I mean, if a horse falls out of the race, the race continues. You wouldn’t stop the race, pick another horse and rerun it, would you?
Without quoting sources at this delicate time, word on the street is another election will cost a cool million squid; who picks up this bill, the taxpayer?
Hinging on two conflicting allegations as to how this story came to light, one being Seedy declared his drink driving offence and suddenly decided he should pull out because of it, and the second that he was ousted when the offense came to light, one could argue if the latter, he, or the Conservative party should be liable for the bill, whereas the first means the electoral roll should’ve picked this up before running the election. Being Wiltshire Council is Tory run, you can bet your bottom dollar, the dollar is coming out of your pocket. In essence, it’s Wiltshire’s most expensive laugh.
Whatever, this does mean there’s time for the Conservatives to draft in a new candidate, which they can do. One who without even having to campaign, will, by current trends walk the show without the slightest insight or experience of the roll. So, if you thought every cloud has a silver lining, no, not in our Tory haven. But I must stress, that’s speculation.
If the race is yet to be won, there’s as much convincing as I can to be done, to sway you to consider voting elsewhere. We’ve interviewed Lib Dem Liz Webster, and we’ve interviewed independent Mike Rees. We ran out of time to chat to Labour’s Junab Ali, for which I apologise, but with this news, and depending on the date of the election, perhaps this is still on the cards, and I welcome Junab to chat with us.
Anyway, tonight will see the news break the local social media sites, where’s there’s a general feeling of relief. Johnathan Seed’s campaign has not been particularly popular. And if that has reflected in the current polls, who knows, we may not have to go through all this again.
Here’s what some people are saying online, which is what the Gazelle & Herod do for a quick article, I know, and if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us!
“I’m sorry, but I’m losing no sleep over this one!”
“Apparently they’re going to put up a garden gnome with a blue rosette on it, they’re still convinced it will win.”
“It’s very frustrating, especially as it’s nothing new. He doesn’t seem to have been a popular choice so fingers crossed he doesn’t win and we can bypass another vote.”
“Good. Will Wiltshire Council send him the bill for having to rerun the poll?”
“This will give him more time to spend with the hunt and hounds..”
Right, that’s enough of that, this isn’t a public forum! Go figure!
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.
Is it campaign point-scoring, as the authorities seem to presume, or concern for health which encouraged Wiltshire PCC candidate, Mike Rees to volunteer to administer lateral flow tests? Whatever, the bottom line is discouraging anyone from attempting to help out during this crisis is bureaucratic nonsense.
And besides, just a brief chat with Mike recently, throughly convinced me his motives are genuine. He’s an open minded, authentic and down-to-earth guy, with experience in the field and a passion for the role.
Mike explains: “It’s with great surprise and disappointment that I have to let you know that I have been stopped, and apparently barred, from becoming a volunteer in the police effort to combat Covid19.
As a retired police officer I put my name forward for volunteer duties last year when the pandemic struck.
This month I answered another call to volunteer to administer lateral flow tests to police officers and staff. I had a training session earlier this week and completed the online NHS assessment and passed to certificate my competency for the task.
Today I was expecting to attend a ‘dry run’ session however I’ve now been told I cannot attend as they have to investigate the ‘rules’ as allowing me to volunteer may suggest bias on their part because I’m a candidate for the role of Wiltshire Police Crime Commissioner.
I’m disappointed and dismayed to be denied the opportunity to volunteer to support the police, a force I worked in for 30 years.
I’ve asked for the ‘rules’ to be clarified as I see no possible concerns.
For your information, I do not agree with this decision to bar me from volunteering.
I’m standing as an independent candidate, not aligned to any political party and volunteering was a personal decision.”
Mike is fast becoming the outside chance of becoming our PCC, and we’re backing him fully here on Devizine after his Malmesbury boxing club recently helped out the homeless, appealing for donations of sleeping bags , food and clothes from locals and delivering them to the OpenDoors support agency in Devizes.
Plus, this is, by far, not the first charitable thing Mike has engaged in.
Busy day, chatting to Wiltshire Police Crime Commissioner candidates and The Wilts Hunt Sabs; something is conflicting…
In 2012 five members of the Avon Vale Hunt, including the master huntsman and Wiltshire councillor, Jonathon Seed appeared in court charged with breaching the Hunting Act 2004. Though they all denied the breach before magistrates in Chippenham, Seed made a statement released to the Wiltshire Times,“This is a private prosecution by the RSPCA and I believe that it has been commenced for political reasons, as their stance against hunting is well known and it is of great significance that Wiltshire Police, after advice from the Crown Prosecution Service, declined to take this case forward. These proceedings are an abuse of the private prosecution system, which needs to be addressed in due course.”
And how best to address said abuse? Elect to become Police Crime Commissioner, that’s how. Perhaps it’s an episode the councillor wishes would disappear, going on the rather defensive attitude he put up when I chatted with him about his campaign this morning. And for what’s it’s worth, he provided some great ideas and valid points on subjects he attempted to divert me onto, but I was wondering where he actually stood on hunting, being, you know, it’s illegal, and he’s wants to be Police Crime Commissioner, just felt, well, a tad conflicting.
“Okay, so, not about the campaign then,” he started.
But I think it’s relevant. “Hunting is illegal,” I pointed to the seemingly obvious, “surely we would want a PCC who upholds the law?”
“Are you suggesting that I wouldn’t want the law upheld?” came Jonathon’s reply. Had to say, far from suggesting anything, the question was built behind the datum the huntsmaster for the Avon Vale hunt appeared in court with allegations he broke the law. And upon experts in the field, Wiltshire Hunt Sabs, who seemed convinced laws had been broken that day. “The badger sett incident,” they confirmed, “it’s clear evidence they were illegally hunting. It’s illegal to use terriers underground (the exemption is in relation to birds, which isn’t relevant on a hunt.) There can only be one reason for sending terriers to ground and that is to flush a fox.”
“You were,” I checked, “huntsmaster for the Avon Vale hunt at the time?”
“You will already know that I was,” Johnathon stated, “the allegation against me that was unfounded was dropped and is covered in the blog.”
Wiltshire Hunt Sabs claimed, “it wasn’t unfounded at all, the current Huntmaster (Stuart Radborne) was found guilty of interfering with the sett. The fact they couldn’t prove hunting act charges is yet more evidence that the law around hunting needs tightening.”
“Do you have anything to ask about the campaign,” Johnathon inquired, “or are you just interested in the Avon Vale Hunt?”
Yes, I do. So, I asked him, “if successful in the post, would you therefore discourage police to act against hunting offences? I mean, I understand, because they’d be personal friends engaged in something you firmly believe in. Also, would you support a turnaround of the law to allow hunting?”
And thus, came the jaw-dropper.
“I have spoken to thousands of people about policing over the last four years,” he said, “residents, officers, volunteers, victims of crime and nobody has wanted to talk about hunting other than trolls online.” Rather than be labelled a “troll,” by Tory boss-cop I allowed myself to be side-tracked. Jonathon was keen to lobby government for further funding, “Wiltshire is the third poorest funded force per head of population in the country, it needs overhauling and I will work with government to achieve this.”
“I have spoken to thousands of people about policing over the last four years,” he said, “residents, officers, volunteers, victims of crime and nobody has wanted to talk about hunting other than trolls online.”
Funds would put more officers in our communities, and offer better support for training and officers and staff’s mental health, and I cannot argue with this, though I pondered why it should be; are we all so better behaved in rural Wiltshire, so we don’t need as much policing as an urban area? I know I am!
“Historic underfunding of the force will continue to be an issue due to the way the funding formula is weighted towards some areas,” Johnathon explained, “The current PCC has done nothing to improve the situation and I believe the public deserve a PCC who will lobby the heart of government for better funding.”
I overlooked the oxymoron; “heart of government.”
In true Conservative fashion he blamed Labour, because fourteen years isn’t enough to up a budget. “The formula was created under Blair so naturally favoured labour voting areas,” he reckoned. “Getting the central government funding addressed has to be a priority. Just because we are a rural county doesn’t mean we don’t have sophisticated criminals operating in our towns and villages; domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, modern day slavery, county drugs lines all affect our communities….”
“And fox hunters?” I added!
“It’s a shame that without knowing me or talking to me you would assume I would actively seek to have the law overlooked,” Johnathon asserted. “I do not and would not want our police to do this for any crime. The Chief Constable has my full backing to ensure that the law is upheld. There is no picking and choosing who the police ‘police.’ Operational policing isn’t the responsibility of the PCC.”
On the front seems Johnathon has good policies, but they’re undoubtably all politically motivated. Do we need a local councillor in the role, or someone who has been actively in the field, policing? I also spoke to independent candidate Mike Rees, passionate about delivering a quality police service for the people. And have to admit, it was akin to chatting to eager musicians when interviewing them. In fact, if there’s irony in voting for a police candidate suspected of breaking the law, the only similarity is that Mike is in a heavy rock band called “the Lawless!”
He told me of annual fundraising gigs at Level III with a plethora of other bands, which has raised £13K for his own charity “Fatboy’s Cancer Charity,” which aims to bring a smile to children who are suffering from cancer or have other life-threatening illnesses. He was also adamant he loved animals, and aside his respect for traditional aspects of rural life, more needed to be done to enforce the Hunting Act. Mike went as far as telling me he’d like to set up a hedgehog rescue centre in his retirement.
“I know there’s a difference between what the boss says and what the police see,I’d like to see a happy workforce, not demoralised.” He expressed a want to improve the service, the relationship between officers and the bosses, and the public, as he’s been on the beat in Swindon, working up through surveillance and CID to counter-terrorism, called in to help during the London bombing. “No wool pulled over my eyes,” Mike added.
“We’ve seen year on year increases to the policing precept, yet no tangible changes or improvements to the service the public of Wiltshire receive,” Mike stated, “seems evident to me and the many people who I speak with, that the Police sometimes do not have the resources to deal with many of the basic responsibilities that we expect; and all too often we see the cracks of struggling service delivery being papered over with a slick marketing campaign, or dare I say it, a social media post!”
“I know that savings can be made, and I also know how tax-payers money is sometimes squandered by Police managers,” he continued. “A politician who doesn’t understand policing can be told that something is required or best value, and will just accept what they are told. I know whether it is actually nice to have or need to have. Spending needs to be scrutinised very closely and I would look to do that to ensure money is diverted to the right resources and needs.”
Though Mike said Jonathon Seed was “very critical of Independent Candidates on his Facebook page recently. To my knowledge, I am the only independent candidate for Wiltshire so his comments are clearly directed to me!” But “the last thing I want to do is get involved in a continual slanging match with any of the other candidates.” Which is just as well for them, as an amateur boxer, I wouldn’t argue!
Jonathon Seed was “very critical of Independent Candidates on his Facebook page recently.”
He compared his own campaign budget to Johnathon’s on the precept he doesn’t mind if he doesn’t get the job, estimating Seed has “about £50k to spend on campaigning, I’ve got about £50, and I begrudge paying that! Money is squandered when it should be to improve services.”
The hunting issue will always be a touchy subject in any rural settings with opinions so divided. But the law is the law, and if anyone upholds it, it should be Police Crime Commissioner. Though while Mr Seed’s blogposts call for his innocence, they also state: “Millions of people in this country engage in perfectly legal fishing, hunting and shooting pastimes and should not be demonised and bullied by a small but vocal minority who do not approve of these pastimes,” and “It is utterly irrelevant to the vast majority of the electorate whether or not a political candidate had a lawful interest in country sports along with millions of other law-abiding people.” Left me wondering how defending wild animals under lawful methods, could possibly deemed demonising and bullying.
“If you wanted to ask me something sensible about fox hunting,” Johnathon said, “rather than the usual stuff that has been well rehearsed and I know doesn’t resonate with rural voters, ask me my views on the change to trespass and who it will apply to.”
But I didn’t like to ask, changing rules to trespass blatantly is there to halt operations from protesters. The Wiltshire Hunt Sabs said, “we’d love to know if he still hunts, we haven’t seen him out with the AVH, but there was a rumour he may go out with the Tedworth. I suspect he has paused for the election. It’s interesting he calls concerned members of the public “trolls”. How arrogant do you have to be to think that regular members of the public aren’t interested in his background as a fox hunter!”
I’ll let the hits on this article decide, and leave it there. I’m all for deciding the next Police Crime Commissioner based purely on a doughnut eating contest, might be easier, might even win myself! Then you’d all be buggered!