Cllr Jonathon Seed is the Conservative candidate for Police & Crime Commissioner Candidate for Wiltshire & Swindon and a councillor in Wiltshire.
Our national electoral closedown in mid-March came after two days of intense speculation at the heart of Government and was unwelcome news in political circles. I am the local Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner Candidate and had entered the “final straight” of the race to be elected as PCC for Wiltshire and Swindon. I suspect that many of us had been in denial of the inevitable. When the Prime Minister made the announcement on that stark Friday afternoon that all elections were to be postponed for a year we had our first dose of reality.
The effects were hard – but in all of this we need to recognise that many were dealing with much more severe emerging consequences of the virus. However, I still had to dismantle a political team and put them on hold for a year including making paid staff redundant. Major printing orders were cancelled at the very last moment, an office had to be closed, and we had to put my campaign account into mothballs. All of this had to be explained to thousands of supporters in very short order. I was fortunate in being able to (just) stop my major leaflet and poster orders.
I was less fortunate in that I had given up my local political roles and will simply have to find something else to occupy my time for the next year. Campaigning is suspended whilst we do our bit to help the local effort to tackle COVID-19, but we will be back and we will be ready to fight the election next year with restored and renewed vigour.
Ten days later, although lockdown was expected it came as suddenly in Wiltshire as the rest of the Country. We knew that we needed it, but like all “medicine” many did not want to take it when the time came. The effects were as difficult here in Wiltshire as the rest of the country. There have been mercifully few local cases and a relatively small number of deaths in the County but each one comes with personal tragedy and grief. Local businesses (including my own holiday business) have been devastated and many of us are facing life in reduced circumstances. However we are all in this together and it has been heart-warming to be a part of an inspirational community response to the national crisis.
In Wiltshire there have been very few difficulties that the local and rural communities have not risen to. Our Council swung into action with an immediate transfer of activity lead from politicians to officers. Wiltshire Council officers have done a grand job in reorganising to deliver essential services needed by residents and to distribute help to businesses in very short order. However, it has been at the most local levels that the real British community spirit has emerged. Every one of the villages that I represent rapidly established individual community support groups and as their local Councillor I am active in support, ranging from arranging liaison with County Hall to delivering support leaflets in my local community.
This is a time for those of us trained to deal with crises and difficulties (in my case through twenty odd years of military service) to use our skills. I chair our Melksham Community Area Board and which was very quick off the mark with the establishment of a formal support network for the 25,000 residents in our area with an advisory website and more volunteers to coordinate than we can use. Our local unitary councillors attend a weekly Skype meeting and work together to share experiences and deal with issues. Part of the joy of this effort has been to see our local politicians immediately dropping their political differences and rolling up their sleeves to work together for our residents. Amongst national difficulty, our local businesses are gaining support and changing how they operate. Many pubs have moved to provide takeaway services, farm shops are booming, and local village stores are delivering. No one needs to feel alone or isolated and we all help somewhere in this.
Our Wiltshire police force has also dealt admirably with the challenge of changing circumstances. The Wiltshire response to policing the COVID-19 restrictions has been exemplary with the measured and sensitive enforcement needed being applied with a light but firm touch. The Chief Constable has been leading this deployment from the front with clear direction to officers trying to deliver a new message in policing. There also has been an upside to the severely reduced road traffic in that it has allowed officers to target criminal activity much more easily and this has directly resulted in the severance of at least one significant county drug line. Also spare a thought for the volunteer police special constables who continue to risk themselves for NO remuneration. Our thanks and admiration are doubly given to them in these difficult times. Life is also difficult for our PCC who is unable to retire as planned but has immediately announced his willingness to stay for the extra year. It is widely known that he is not in the best of health and is not as actively mobile as he once was but he soldiers on.
The national message is of a Government leading the response as best it can in the most difficult of circumstances (in spite of appalling journalists pursuing their own “attack” agenda and badly misjudging the national mood). The local message from Wiltshire is one of stoic perseverance, a wonderful rural community spirit, the British coping with a crisis as they do best and a superb local police force getting its policing response to COVID-19 just right. When we emerge from this crisis, as we surely will, Moonrakers will be able to look back on what they did in these difficult times with quietly reflective pride.