John Campion is West Mercia’s recently elected Police and Crime Commissioner, and believes that politics is all about “giving community voice.”
Campion believes that there is a link between morality and political participation through “representing the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the local community in their elected representatives”.
Drawing a contrast between American and British politics, Campion believes that British politics is much more about the “values and individual policies of politicians”, rather than the “generalities about strength, power, and prosperity” which are often dominant within American politics.
Campion believes that on a more local basis, there is more scope for getting to know the electorate, whereas national politics is much more about the ‘brand of a party’ and the values that a particular party “help in reassuring the community what it is that they are getting”, rather than conveying a blank slate in the same style as independent politicians often do.
Campion’s first experience of political activism came when he first stood to be a district councillor twelve years ago at the age of 27 and became Leader of Wyre Forest District Council Council three years later. He says that he is “incredibly humbled” in being given the political opportunity he currently has, where he is responsible for representing 1.2 million men, women, and children.
When asked about what motivates an individual to get involved in politics, he claims that “it only takes a few like-minded, well-rounded individuals that can change things.” Campion does admit, however, that “one of the downsides is the fact that the vast majority of its members are older, retired, and are also men”. For Campion, he believes that more needs to be done to encourage young people, ladies, and people from diverse ethnic backgrounds to stand in elections, and believes that our democratic function should be executed by those that are “representative of society as a whole, not just a small proportion of those who are voting.” In order to deliver this, Campion believes that there needs to be a reward system and less punishment by employers for those who take an interest in public service.
Reflecting upon political apathy within local government, Campion does not believe that this is a universal tendency. Indeed, he argues that “we get rooms full of residents when there is something controversial in their street, but that we are not getting massive turnout for important local government elections.” Campion believes that post-Thatcherite Britain made the middle-ground the consensus within politics, and as a result has led to the rise and sharp fall of more extreme parties such as UKIP and the BNP, which have been historically unsuccessful at winning seats in local elections. Campion also believes that the more politicians do to make their actions more relevant to younger electors, the more they will become engaged.
Campion believes that mainstream parties are now fighting over the middle ground, and that “there will always be appetite for parties that meet that particular aspiration.” He adds that when politicians stop being in that, they start to lose populist support. Campion argues that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour as a social movement is a prime example of this, and is reflected in the fact that they are trialling behind the Conservatives in election statistics. He does, however, believe that the Brexit vote is an example of where “our leaders were out of quilter with the communities.” Campion confesses that politicians can only recall the public back to the middle-ground with “respect and even-headedness”, by explaining their vision for the country.
As a Police and Crime Commissioner, Campion’s office funds a range of young people activity, in his words; “from the fully organised and uniformed all the way down to the much more casual”, and expects that the role will continue to support this. He tells me that he wants to “engage with young people on the edge of either our society or the criminal justice system, and are on the edge of social exclusion”. He wants to make sure that his activity is “making a real difference.”
We start to speak about what consent means for the Criminal Justice System. Campion argues that consent is only possible because “the community has said that there are the laws that we want to be governed by and we need somebody to enforce them.” He also believes that America is a “prime example” of how ‘weaponising’ the civilian police force does very little to improve how safe people feel, and that it is only by being in tune with the majority of electors that politicians are able to sustain their authority within society. Campion told me that he will ultimately offer himself for re-election in 2020 and will then know whether he is doing “a good job.”
When I ask whether pragmatism is a virtue within politics, Campion responds quite simply; “there is no such thing as a black and white decision; everything has grey areas.” He says that politicians should be elected on their “value and judgement systems”, not purely manifesto commitments. Nonetheless, he does admit that the public “rewards” people who have stood by their convictions, even though he does maintain that a politician has to be “in tune with those they are speaking to” in order to get elected. He claims that authenticity is a “key part” as “you can’t fake it.”
When I ask about the role that education plays within political participation, Campaign argues that even though a person develops their views over time and through experience, schools can “equip students with that inquisitiveness so that they can understand what their politics are.” He claims that “if I am paying taxes, I should be conscientious to understand what the different political values mean.” “We need to be spoon-fed less and encourage people to be self-reliant.” Campion also says that he would like to see a wider connection between schools and the police force, particularly with the role that Community Support Officers can play.
When I ask what has sustained him in his political career so far, he tells me; “I believe that with some determination and some tenacity, some dogged-wilfulness, you can make it better.”