'Local is best' for selecting police chiefs, says minister

The police minister has urged local Conservatives to consider US-style primaries to choose crime commissioner candidates for election next year.

Tory minister Nick Herbert announced that the Conservatives intend to back candidates at a regional level, rather than impose their own people from central office, at elections for 42 commissioners.

One of the new police and crime chiefs will cover the Devon and Cornwall force area. The electorate will go to the polls in exactly a year's time.

In a speech to mark the 12-month countdown, Mr Herbert issued a "clarion call" for prospective candidates to come forward, adding: "These are big jobs for big figures."

The Conservatives later issued a call for applications, effectively firing the starting gun on campaigning.

Mr Herbert said primaries – where anyone in an area can vote for a prospective candidate no matter their political allegiance – are a "powerful way to build interest and legitimacy in elections".

Sarah Wollaston, now Conservative MP for Totnes, was selected as the Tory parliamentary candidate at the last election following an open primary.

In a question-and-answer session, Mr Herbert confirmed it will be a decision for local associations whether they back a candidate or not, which could pave the way for the party to support independents.

He told the audience: "We do want independents to stand. I think the political parties need to look at how they might seek to encourage that as well in certain areas and it will be, as far as the Conservative Party is concerned, for local decision making. Local Conservatives may choose to support an independent candidate.

"We regard that as a matter for them. Clearly the idea of primaries is one means by which that could be achieved, and certainly it's something the Conservative Party is looking at."

So far, only Lance Kennedy, a former officer and Conservative councillor in Cornwall, has indicated he will stand for the £85,000-a-year post in Devon and Cornwall.

But politicians from all three major parties are thought to be interested in the role, which will give responsibility for setting police priorities and hiring and firing chief constables.

Other parties will now be under pressure to make their stance clear.