This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Professor John Howson: a magistrate and...?

In the last couple of days, the Liberal Democrats of Thames Valley have announced that Professor John Howson is to be their candidate in the forthcoming election of the Police & Crime Commissioner. As the news reports say, Professor Howson is "a magistrate who was knifed by a pupil in his days as a teacher". Interestingly on the same page of the Reading Chronicle a reader (a Lib Dem?) has posted this: "At last a candidate with real life experience of crime. I thought this was going to be a foregone conclusion with the tory candidate winning but it looks like the Tories are up against a real challenger now. Good luck John!"

I have never met Professor Howson but he clearly knows his stuff - education stuff. He is a recognised "authority on the labour market for teachers". His University of Oxford profile goes on to say that he a "former deputy head of education at Brookes University and government adviser on teacher supply matters, John taught in a Tottenham secondary school for seven years and worked in teacher training and development in Worcester and Durham as well as Oxford". It is impressive stuff. If you Google his name you will find a myriad of references to his work in the field of... education.

He has also been a magistrate for many years and (it would appear from my brief research) to have been closely involved in the Magistrates Association for quite a while. He is currently one of their Vice Presidents. Although appreciation of his contribution is not universal.

I know this may seem that I beginning to support him (as, after all, he and the Labour Candidate Tim Starkey do know each other reasonably well - see here and here). But I am not. Professor Howson has remained a supporter of a Government that is slowly and painfully turning the clock on our public services (including his and our beloved educational system) back to the middle ages. Whereas my colleague Tim has followed through on his ideas and principles (ones that Professor Howson once shared?) and recognised the only place for him to be is in the Labour Party.

But it is not just that.

I am unclear how being a magistrate gives a person any special qualification to become a police and crime commissioner. Professor Howson will have an understanding of the courts system but his exposure to governance and strategic leadership of policing is, shall we say, limited. True he was a victim of a very nasty crime some years ago but again I would contend this does not give him any particular knowledge of how to hire or fire a chief constable, write policing plans and set council tax precepts (etc.) I appreciate his experience will probably have given him insight and a passion for supporting victims of crime, but many others have that.

It would seem to me from browsing through his mentions on the net that his real passion is education, not policing.

And finally, what of the selection process?

The Labour Party have been entirely open about how our candidates have been selected, we even published the numbers of votes as counted by an independent organisation (The Electoral Reform Society). Contrast this with the growing omnishambles in the Tory Party where there are (as reported by Sam Chapman, a Conservative Councillor himself) a growing number of internal reviews and re-selection processes (see here, and here and here for example). Selection process that can yield such headlines as this "Tory Party announces that Tory hopeful who beat two Tories but who is not a Tory and refuses to become a Tory quits as Tory candidate for police commissioner." are as much a gift to satire as Clint Eastwood currently is.

But at least with the Conservative Party, some of the stories are emerging. How was Professor John Howson selected? Were there other candidates? Was he chosen by a small committee or by a postal vote of party members? For a party that is supposedly committed to transparency and democracy, the Liberal Democrats are not saying much.

Unless you know something different....?

UPDATE: I have just spotted this website which helpfully gives contact details for Professor Howson, so I have written to him asking about the selection process. I will report back.

UPDATE 2: Well. This is getting curiouser and curiouser. I have just received this reply back from Professor Howson (or someone operating his email address): Thank you for your query. If you can supply me with your Liberal Democrat party Membership number I will pass your query on to the appropriate person. I replied: I am now even more curious – why do you say I have to supply you with a Liberal Democrat Party membership number to have my questions answered? Is information about the method that was used to select you only to be known by party members? Please explain further. Thank you. (2106|5/9/12)

UPDATE 3: Professor Howson has written back to me saying: Selection is a matter for the Party and not the candidate, so I have passed your request on to them. That seems fair enough, his party probably has rules about who can and cannot talk about process. We do in the Labour Party too. However, he still surprised about my inquiry. I responded by saying: given the initial policy of your party not to put up candidates at all, the continuing controversies over Conservative selection processes in several counties and the fact that a number of candidates have had to withdraw due to past crimes, I am sure you can understand my interest in respect of this particular election. (7/9/12)

Aside from his work in education, has Professor Howson been following the news about the PCC elections? 
Watch this space for developments...


  1. Anonymous9/9/12 18:12

    So does the fact that you didn't leave the Labour Party mean that you support ID Cards?

    1. Well I didn't & don't support the Iraq war either! But I have remained a party member.

      As for ID cards, it is not a totemic issue for me especially as driving licences are almost de facto ID cards any way. I suspect that the Universal Benefit system that the Coalition Govt is introducing will require some sort of ID process type card too - which of course is deeply ironic given that this new system will only come in with the support of Liberal Democrats...

      But to answer your question, I am not in favour of compulsory ID cards especially if that results in criminalising people who are 'caught' without them (as used to happen in South Africa).

      But to stop scoring political points, by being a party member, I accept that there are some things done by my party that I do not agree with. But that is what means to be part of party. However, I can envisage a point where if these some things, become many things and then which become most things that I would then choose to leave.

      For many Liberal Democrats, being a partner in what is arguably an even more right wing government than Thatcher's, is a stretch too far. And that is why so many Lib Dems are resigning, and why many (like Tim) are joining Labour. We welcome all people who sign up to Government that seeks to work for the many not just the few.

  2. Jan Davies23/4/16 20:53

    There is not nearly enough information out there about candidates in the election for the commissioner. I wasn't going to bother to vote - I disapprove of the whole business, especially of the involvement of political parties - but now that I have discovered Professor Howson is a candidate I shall be voting after all. He sat for many years as a magistrates in Didcot at a time when I was there every week prosecuting. Sometimes trenchant, always courteous and always able to ferret out humbug! I couldn't care less about his politics. What we need is a good sensible person, so I shall be voting for him. But there is going to be a very low turnout. Very few people even know who the candidates are.