The post of police, fire and crime commissioner (PFCC) for North Yorkshire is not normally the most hotly contested of elections. In May 2021, only 25.47 percent of the people who could have voted bothered to do so. Many people turned up at a polling station and voted for a local councillor and then consciously chose not to vote for a commissioner.
Vacancy for North Yorkshire commissioner
How big a mistake that was soon became clear. The winner of the election was the Conservative candidate, Philip Allott. He got 83,737 votes and landed himself the job. Within months, he was forced to resign after saying the most appalling things about Sarah Everard. The best candidate the Conservative Party could find thought that a murdered woman should take much of the blame for her own murder.
As the next election is imminent, I thought it might be wise to check out the competition. Labour finished second with 53,422 first and second-preference votes and I had a reasonable clear idea of what they stood for. A virtually unknown independent called Keith Tordoff came third with 22,308. I had much less of an idea what he was about.
It is no small achievement to record over 22,000 votes in an election where you start with no brand recognition and don’t have a party machine behind you. So, I sought out Keith and asked for a discussion to find out how he had done it and what he stood for.
Keith Tordoff: independent candidate for NYPFCC
I genuinely didn’t know what to expect, as some people I trust had told me they thought he might be to the right of the Conservatives, whereas others told me that they had liked what they heard when they saw him on TV. Shortly after our discussion began, I quickly found a man who isn’t interested in political labels but does understand the power of the role.
I encountered an energetic former police inspector who had used his own money to launch a campaign that focused on things that he passionately believed needed to change and change fast. I had expected to have to press him on what priority he gave to domestic violence. Instead that was something he quickly volunteered as a top priority; closely followed by getting more women officers into the force and improving training to achieve a significant change in the culture. He made much of the need to motivate and retain good staff whilst challenging others very hard when that was necessary.
Solid crime reduction ideas
I had not expected to hear anything on drugs other than the usual ritual repetition of the need for a war on county lines and stamping down on dealers. Instead, I heard an intelligently articulated case for massively improving the treatment of drug users and trying to manage their addiction safely. Since drug misuse is the single greatest driver for violent crime and stealing from other people’s homes, this was a very welcome focus. Keith was quickly quoting the former chief of police from Durham who had some radical and hugely sensible ideas about how to control drug use.
These are brave ideas that the Green Party has been championing for years. More importantly, they are known to work to reduce crime. It is interesting that so many with actual frontline experience of dealing with drug crime are convinced that mindless calls for a war on drugs simply aren’t working. A growing number of experienced people want to remove the multibillion-pound incentive that drug money gives each year to criminals to sell drugs to our children.
It was also great to hear one of the candidates for the role of PFCC properly prioritising cybercrime and fraud. Keith has experience of fraud detection after working for ten years on doing exactly that for Halifax Bank of Scotland. He clearly knew the extent of the misery this crime is inflicting on vulnerable people such as those with dementia, and had practical ideas about how to reduce it.
Tackling environmental problems
I was also pleased to hear a lot about how the role of commissioner could be used to help tackle environmental problems. He was keen on the idea of rapidly converting non-operational vehicles to electric power. I didn’t understand why he was only targeting non-operational vehicles when electric cars are now so fast and efficient. But I did appreciate his ideas about cutting emissions whilst also cutting costs by shedding some of the expensive buildings that covid has shown us are not actually needed.
I confess I was less impressed with his ideas about cutting back hedgerows and increasing lighting at night to help protect the public. But then, that probably says more about my views and the priority I give to protecting nature and dark skies than it does about the priorities of someone with a lifelong interest in public safety. From a safety perspective it is hard to argue with the case for keeping public spaces well-lit and actively patrolled that he put.
Time for change
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed. One of the possible downsides was that I detected a strong ego, which might in some circumstances prove a problem in working with those who disagreed with him. I also detected a passion to get on with the practicalities of the job. It is, perhaps, no bad thing if a leader has strong personal self-confidence. Particularly in a role where attempts to achieve change are likely to be resisted by strong forces of conservatism.
And therein lies the ultimate rub. After the appalling comments the last commissioner made about the Sarah Everard murder at the hands of a serving police officer, it ought to be clear to all that we need a major cultural change in policing regionally, as well as nationally. Voting in the second-best Conservative candidate after the first has failed so badly doesn’t exactly seem like a wise strategy.
North Yorkshire residents – use your vote!
I came away convinced that Keith was capable of driving many of the changes that we need. He may not be the perfect candidate. Whoever is? But he is a candidate that progressive voters ought to give serious thought to turning out and voting for. Not least because if he can go from nothing to over 22,000 votes with no resources and no party organisation the first time out, then he might well be the best-placed candidate to win this time round.
If you have a vote in North Yorkshire, I suggest you look into what he is saying and take his candidature very seriously indeed. Above all I suggest you get out and vote. Because this election is wide open for the taking and any change in turn out will make a massive difference to the outcome.