‘Open’ selection of Tory choice for Norfolk police overseer

Norfolk's Tories are to have 'open primaries' to choose the party's candidate for the new top police post.

Norfolk's Conservatives are to throw open the process of choosing their candidate to become the county's first elected police and crime commissioner.

An 'open primary' system will allow non-Tories to attend and vote at two or three meetings in the early summer when the party's candidate – who will probably be the favourite to win the new job – is expected to be chosen.

The local Conservatives have not completely ruled out the more radical possibility of allowing all members of the Norfolk electorate to vote in a postal ballot to select their candidate.

But Gt Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis – the lead MP for the county's Tories on this issue – said he feared the cost of such an exercise would be prohibitive.

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The elections for the police commissioners, who are to be the face of greater police accountability and who will have the power to hire and fire chief constables, will take place nationally in November.

The commissioners will also set policing priorities in their areas and will manage the budget, and are expected to be paid about �65,000 a year.

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They will have to answer to police and crime panels, and the new arrangements will see the abolition of the present local police authorities in a shake-up aimed at 'reconnecting police and the people'.

Explaining the Norfolk Conservatives' wish to open up the choice of their candidate to a wider 'selectorate', Mr Lewis (pictured below) said that 'the commissioner will be the public face of the police in the county, so having our candidate chosen by the public is the right way to go about it'.

'We believe in law and order, and we should be transparent about how we choose the person responsible for it in Norfolk', he continued.

The party's plans for the candidate-selection process in Norfolk will not be finalised until next month.

But it is provisionally proposed that there will be two or three 'open primary' meetings on a Saturday in late May or early June.

A meeting will definitely be held in Norwich, and another will take place in the west of the county.

Tickets will be produced for the meetings, and anyone – whether or not a Conservative member – can apply. There will be a vote at each meeting after the candidates have spoken, and the figures will be aggregated to produce the winner.

Mr Lewis said that a final shortlist of people seeking the party's nomination will have two-four names. Anyone wanting to be on it does not have to have Conservative membership, but would be expected to acquire it if selected.

Those seeking the Tory nomination will certainly include Stephen Bett, the current chairman of the Norfolk Police Authority. 'I will definitely be standing', he said yesterday.

And Simon Woodbridge, the former leader of Broadland council confirmed that 'I have an interest in standing'.

On the Labour side, former Norwich City Council leader Steve Morphew said that 'I am certainly putting my name forward.'

The closing date for nominations for the party's candidacy for the post is February 17, and local party members are expected to choose from a shortlist in a one member-one vote election.

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