Saturday, 4 August 2007

Commander Crackpot for Mayor

It was an awfully nice idea. When Tony Blair created the office of mayor of London, he imagined that it would attract a new kind of politician, able to provide the city with visionary leadership. Instead the choice that Londoners will be presented with next year is between two distinctly unappealing examples of the old kind of politics. In the red corner, an apologist for Islamic extremism and in the blue, a reactionary buffoon who can barely read the autoque on have I got news for you.
I do not envy Londoners having to choose between them.

In these circumstances, the often asked question, what are the Liberal Democrats for? answers itself. The shear awfulness of the candidates from the major parties presents us with a unique opportunity to pull off a massive electoral upset. But this would require us to put forward a very strong candidate. This is something we have so far failed to do. We have already had to reopen to our selection once and the suggestions for candidates are getting odder and odder. So far only one candidate has been suggested who can really take on the gruesome twosome. That candidate is Deputy Assistant Commisioner Brian Paddick.

Paddick is one of Britain's most high profile police officers. As the Met's commander in the London Borough of Lambeth he oversaw a controversial but highly successful 'softly-softly' approach to possession of Cannabis, which paved the way for the reclassification of Cannabis as a Class C drug. He was a prominent figure in the response to the 21st July bombings. He is the most senior openly gay police officer. He is not a universally popular figure; the Daily Mail christened him Commander Crackpot for his comment that 'Anarchy held a certain appeal to him' and he was accused (and cleared) of taking drugs.

This background would help Paddick to overcome many of the problems that tend to afflict any Lib Dem. To the accusation that we are soft on crime, we could hit back with the fact that our candidate is a long serving and successful police officer. To the suggestion that we are a bunch of nice but woolly minded people who can't actually run anything, we could respond that our candidate had plenty of experience of management from his time in the police. Paddick's profile may not be as high as Ken and Boris's but it is still substantial and would go a long way to overcoming the perception that we can't win. He is certainly more recognisable than any of the other potential non-Lembit candidates.

The objections I would normally have to a police officer being a Lib Dem candidate, do not apply in Paddick's case. The stereotype of the authoritarian, socially conservative plod evidently does not apply to Paddick. I would also usually be concerned about how effective a communicator a police candidate would be but again this objection does not possibly apply. I do not think anyone could accuse Paddick of being camera shy and he has a reputation as a talented public speaker. A colleague said of him: "When he spoke at a meeting in the town hall in Brixton, it was the first time the community gave a senior police officer a standing ovation. He had them rolling around in peals of laughter with the borough commander rather than at the borough commander. He is a warm and friendly person, very human. He builds confidence, people trust him."

Paddick standing would pose serious problems for Boris Johnson because it would expose many of his weaknesses. I imagine that the targeted letter to Conservative supporters would have something like this: 'while Conservative candidate from Henley was being fired for lying by his own leader, Brian Paddick was working hard to make the streets safe for ordinary Londoners.' Boris's almost complete lack of management experience would be showed up by facing Paddick, who has held senior positions in the police force and Ken, who is already doing the job. Next to Paddick just how much of a featherweight Boris is would be painfully obvious.

Assuming they could get into second place, a Lib Dem candidate might find it easier to actually go on and win. Where as the second votes of Lib Dem supporters would be expected to split pretty evenly between the Tory and Labour candidates, the bulk of Tory second votes would probably to the Lib Dem. They would also take a much higher share of the transfers from Green and Respect voters than would a Conservative candidate.

Ken vs. Boris vs. DAC Paddick would certainly not be boring and at the end London might just have the mayor it deserves.

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