Paul’s Campaign Diary

The Final Word

I’m so proud of the Labour campaign for police and crime commissioner in Sussex. Our team worked so hard and I’m just sorry I couldn’t take us over the line. We topped the poll in the areas where we need to win parliamentary seats and smashed it in Brighton and Hove.

You may know that the Tories changed the electoral system to first-past-the-post this time. If this election was fought on the same preferential system as last time, Labour would have won.

The Green candidate didn’t show up for the count or the result.

Thank you so much for your support. The last words on the campaign are these: GENERAL ELECTION NOW.

Paul’s Campaign Diary

Last Day of Campaigning – Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings

 Polling Day is here. For political nerds, this is Christmas, the World Cup Final, and Eurovision rolled into one, very long, day. I’ve been up a tower block in Brighton and West Hill in Hastings in support of our excellent local candidates. The thunderstorms last night might be a pathetic fallacy for dramas ahead. 

This morning I voted in Eastbourne. There is something mystical about voting. Transcendental even. For a moment political power rests in the hands of the citizens, before it is loaned to a representative on a temporary basis. I always think of the Chartists demanding a secret ballot to prevent bribery or bullying. That’s why there’s a booth, and a sealed box.

As the candidate I like to check in with the polling station staff to see how they’re doing. It’s a long day for them too. 

Now I’m heading back to Hastings to see off the ‘independent’ challenge and the threat of the Greens doing to Hastings what they did to Brighton. The so-called independents offer zero leadership to the town; their whole shtick is about their own ego trip. 

The results from across the UK start to come in on Friday and Saturday but the police and crime results are Sunday. We will be at the Brighton Centre to hear the results. 

Don’t forget to vote before 10pm today and take your photo ID. I’ve already seen two people turned away this morning. The Chartists didn’t through all that for you to forget your drivers licence. 

Paul’s Campaign Diary

Campaign Diary – Crawley

To Langley Green, Crawley at the invitation of Cllr Michael Jones, leader of the council. I was hugely honoured to be welcomed by the local councillors and candidates, and two portfolio holders, as well as local Labour activists. We spoke with retailers about crime and antisocial behaviour, hearing the usual stories of abuse, violence, theft and a tardy police response.

At the Co-op, they’ve introduced security guards through the Co-op’s contract with Mitie. This has had a significant impact in reducing looting after months of mayhem. It makes the point that frequent uniformed police patrols of areas such as Langley Green would deter crime and reassure the public. The square has become a magnet for drugs dealing, street drinking, and antisocial behaviour. A police presence would make the place feel safe for shoppers and families.

As I travelled back to Eastbourne from Crawley (via Three Bridges, change at Haywards Heath) I reflected on two things: one, how much I regret the decision to implement the Beeching cuts to the railway in the 1960s which closed lines in Sussex. And two, how we vacated the public square and created a vacuum for others to fill. The absence of any authority figures, aside from the underpaid and much-abused Mitie contractors, means basic norms are not enforced.

For example, in Eastbourne, the deserted Debenhams has become a place for young people to break into, smoke weed, and party. We create a lawless space when we desert the high street. This was a bustling department store – now it’s the Wild West. I observed something similar in the NCP car park behind Eastbourne station the other evening. The fact is that the police are stretched too thin to do much about it.  

Let’s do something about it. Polling Day is the day after tomorrow, and remember to bring your photo ID to vote. 

Paul’s Campaign Diary

We need to reimagine our High Streets

To East Grinstead, where we held a lively street stall, and I walked the high street with parliamentary candidate Cllr Ben Cox. We chatted to retailers about the increase in retail crime, and the fact that Sussex is the second-worst police area for unsolved shoplifting crimes.

East Grinstead’s high street is blighted by boarded up shops, like most high streets. The danger is that empty shops become targets for vandalism. Fewer people come to do their shopping. So, the public realm starts to feel unsafe, and a downward spiral begins. It’s nearly 30 years since George L. Kelling and Catharine Coles’ published Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities. The authors make the point that a broken window invites further damage, and suggests that no-one is in charge and no-one cares about public spaces.

Ben and I saw some broken windows – the Dominos and the KFC had both been vandalised overnight. What we didn’t see was a single police officer in a morning of campaigning.

We have to re-imagine what our high streets are for. If our shopping habits have changed beyond redemption, which they have, then we have to decide what to do with high streets. I love coffee, charity shops, and getting a shave as much as the next person. But there must be more to high streets than Costa, Oxfam, and the barbers.

The last Labour Government introduced some funding to reclaim local shops and make creative use of the spaces. I remember this because I was the special adviser in the Communities department at the time. Then in 2010, the Tories came in and soon thousands of jobs disappeared and hundreds of shops closed.

Labour’s plan for the high street includes more police on the streets in visible neighbourhood teams. Of course we need to crack down on looting. But it also includes banking hubs to replace closed-down bank branches, a reform of business rates, and a crack-down on crippling late payments for small retailers. We also need to sort out parking, so you don’t need a mortgage to pop to the shops.

The most eye-catching, and possibly the most transforming, is a new ‘right-to-buy’ power for community groups to purchase empty shops. This might be perfect for co-operatives to start up all manner of local initiatives, from community bakeries to art galleries. Unless we get creative and clever, our high streets will hollow out.

In East Grinstead I met a man who had voted Tory all his life. But on Thursday, he told me he will be voting Labour for the first time. The tectonic plates are shifting. 

Paul’s Campaign Diary

Sussex shopworkers support Paul Richards

I took part in the BBC Radio Sussex candidates’ debate, with my Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Green opponents. BBC legend Danny Pike was in the chair. Within five minutes, the Green and the Lib Dem declared they didn’t think the role of Police and Crime Commissioner should even exist. This neatly separated the two serious candidates from the others. For the record, I think the role should not only exist, but that it presents a serious opportunity to shape policing in Sussex.

Having established who is serious, and who is not, we debated the issues. For students of politics, this is a classic incumbent-versus-insurgent campaign. My Conservative opponent has to defend her, and her party’s, record over the past decade-and-a-half. That’s why I pressed her on the 20,000 cuts to police under the Tories, and on shoplifting which has dramatically increased since she took the national lead on shoplifting. She claims this is because more people are reporting it. I think it’s because more people are shoplifting – at least that’s what retailers tell me.

Talking of shops, my Conservative opponent made the claim that a member of the shopworkers’ union USDAW had written to a local paper in support of her candidature. I pointed out on air that USDAW, who I have been working closely with on the issue of retail crime, is a trade union affiliated to the Labour Party.

A day later, and completely out of the blue, I received a lovely email from Paddy Lillis, the general secretary of Usdaw, in which he says:

“Following the personal comments of an individual member of our National Executive Council to the West Sussex County Times, I wanted to write to you to make it clear that USDAW fully and wholeheartedly formally endorses your candidature to be the next Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex. Retail crime, and in particular the abuse, threats and violence our members on the frontline, in retail suffer all too often, is a huge issue for us as a union. I know that you are committed to working with us and our members to tackle it and that you have supported our Policing Pledge.”

And also Paddy says:

“Paul is a committed supporter of our campaign to make our members’ workplaces and their local high streets safer for everyone. I know that with Paul as Sussex’s Police and Crime Commissioner, local people would have someone who would tackle head on the all too frequent abuse and violence our members face while simply going about their daily jobs.”

So that clears up that. As the debate progressed, listeners were clear that this is a two-horse race, with two serious candidates offering competing policies and visions for the future of policing in Sussex. We have a Green who didn’t mention climate change once, and a Lib Dem who doesn’t think the job should exist. This is not a job for the muddled-headed, half-hearted, or cold-hearted. This is time for change. 

Paul’s Campaign Diary

In Praise of Parklife

A park is a perfect metaphor for my kind of socialism. Our parks are open to all, irrespective of identity, wealth, or status. It’s a place where people can enjoy nature, especially with pollinator-friendly planting. We can exercise our dogs and ourselves. We can bring our children to swing on swings and go round about roundabouts.

The park is one of the last redoubts of the community cafe, withstanding the onslaught of Costa and Starbucks. The Tennis Cafe in Gildredge Park in Eastbourne, for example, is a fantastic community meeting place and does some fantastic cake.

And very few could  ever afford that much land for our personal use – so we club together through our taxes to create something we hold in common, for everyone to enjoy. Picnickers. Footballers. Dog walkers. Park runners. Those tai chi dudes. Everyone.

Cuts to local authorities and to the police over the past ten years present a real danger to parks across Sussex. I am sad to see graffiti in Gildredge Park. We have lost the park keepers who used to live in homes nearby. The police seldom patrol parks anymore. Vandals destroy benches, public toilets and even burn down children’s play equipment.

As your Police and Crime Commissioner, I will work with local authorities, the community ‘Friends of…’ organisations, neighbourhood wardens, and Sussex Police to reclaim our parks. I will ensure that regular foot patrols by neighbourhood police teams include our parks on their beat. Parks belong to us all. All of us must be free to enjoy them, free from fear. 

Paul’s Campaign Diary

Lewes, Sunday 

Lewes Football Club has been a community-led club for decades. As the women’s team was playing Crystal Palace on Sunday at the Dripping Pan, we went along before the match to chat to fans. 

Grassroots football has a huge role in community cohesion and crime prevention. The youth teams in particular can provide purpose and discipline to young people. As Police & Crime Commissioner I will support football clubs, and their community activities, across Sussex. 

I first visited Lewes in 1993 for a Labour event with Mo Mowlem amongst others. As the parliamentary candidate in 2001 I spent a great deal of time there. It’s a unique town. The spirit of Tom Paine hangs over the streets: unconventional, rebellious, querulous, and quirky. How it has never had a Labour MP, I’ll never know. 

It’s also the best place to walk down a twitten. You might call it a ginnel, a cut, a snicket, an entry, a passage, or a jitty, but in Sussex it’s a twitten and Lewes has loads.

Paul’s Campaign Diary

Saturday – Rustington

We ran a lively and successful street stall in Rustington, West Sussex, on Saturday. Rustington has a bustling high street with some great retailers, including Truffles the bakers which I keep seeing across Sussex, and Turner’s Pie Shop owned by Phil Turner who came second on the Apprentice last week. We had the usual encounters with residents and retailers concerned about everything from the NHS to potholes. It was the national retail crime day run by the Labour Party, Usdaw, and the Co-op Party so naturally we talked about retail crime with Rustington retailers. 

A couple of things struck me from the conversations. One is that there are no no-go areas for Labour, even in affluent parts of West Sussex. The iniquities of the first-past-the-post system mean that people are forced to vote for their second-best choice, but many more would be openly Labour if they thought their vote would have a direct influence. The Tories’ decision to regress to first-past-the-post in these elections for Police and Crime Commissioners is a deliberate attempt to skew the results in their favour. I support electoral and constitutional reform, and have done for over 30 years.

The second thing is that most people have no idea what a Police and Crime Commissioner is or does. Again, a lack of knowledge and a low turnout favours the Tories. People simply don’t know there’s an election and that they have a vote next week. The Electoral Commission could do far more to publicise the election.

But more, we need a complete revamp and re-energising of our system of political education in the UK. Citizenship should be taught, starting with the schools and colleges, through the prism of constitutional rights and hard-won freedoms not quirky traditions. Again, a cynic might argue that a deficit of political literacy, and the lack of a vibrant political culture, favours those in power. 

Paul’s Campaign Diary

Brighton, early doors.

On Friday, we met outside Brighton railway station to meet and greet the early morning crowd. The weather is clearer, but not warmer, so we stamped our feet and kept moving around. I was joined for the former Hove MP Ivor Caplin and Labour’s candidate in the Kemptown by-election Theresa Mackey.

After the morning rush, we visited St James’ Street to talk to retailers. At a major cosmetics store, we spoke to the manager who had been recently assaulted and the shop robbed. In the Co-op we heard the same story: mass looting on a daily basis, abuse and threats directed at staff, and a police response described as sub-optimal at best.

If any street in Britain could benefit from a neighbourhood police team, with named officers, and regular foot patrols, it is St James’ Street, Brighton. There’s a vibrancy to the place, and it should in no way be sanitised and turned into yet another standard-issue high street with all the same big stores. But a regular police presence would make it safer for everyone.

We paid our respects at the AIDS memorial sculpture by Romany Mark Bruce in New Stein Gardens. This is a cast bronze depiction of two figures entwined in the shape of the famous AIDS memorial ribbon. As Ivor explained, the sculpture is a solemn place where people come to reflect on lives lost.  

Theresa showed me around Kemptown Village, including the excellent flea market and some of the great independent stores. We found the line between campaigning and shopping is quite thin. The by-election is on 2 May, and I know Theresa will represent Kemptown with great energy and passion.

Paul’s Campaign Diary

Campaign diary Worthing, Uckfield, Brighton 

Yesterday must surely count as a ‘Super Wednesday’. To Worthing first thing, with a great breakfast at Monty’s cafe by the station. A proper cafe of the old school, of a kind that is sadly disappearing under the wave of coffee shops. I like a cappuccino as much as anyone, but we’ll miss bacon and eggs when the cafes have all gone.

Meeting Becky Cooper again, the council leader and West Worthing parliamentary candidate, was a total joy. With Cllr Rosey Whorlow we walked about the town centre. The Labour council has ambitious plans for developing the town centre up to the station. You can feel there’s a buzz about the place. A great seafront and pier, a welter of independent shops, and a growing population of DFLs. We met a former police officer who was helping run his son’s sweet emporium. 

In Uckfield I met up with Cllr Ben Cox who is the parliamentary candidate, town councillor and leading Co-op Party member. He’s also studying at university and earning a living as a chef. Ben showed me some of the antisocial hotspots in Uckfield and explained how the council is tackling antisocial behaviour and disorder. They’re establishing a youth club, which I’ve long-argued is an essential part of crime prevention. The Tories’ cuts to youth services was a stupid mistake.

On the bus then, as Dr Beeching closed the branch line south from Uckfield. I met with members of Hollington & Fiveways Labour Party in Brighton Pavillion to discuss the final two weeks of the campaign. They showed a real welcome and willingness to get stuck in. I racked up 19,000 steps yesterday, proving that being a campaigner beats joining a gym.