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Police chief too busy to answer questions for himself
It is perhaps understandable why Hertfordshire’s police commissioner, who once relished in the extra press coverage his new job brought, has become more media shy of late.
David Lloyd’s first year in office was hardly a tour de force PR-wise. First his deputy resigned in the wake of a self-inflicted controversy touched off by her tweeting a picture of Hitler.
Then, while cutting officer jobs in the force, Mr Lloyd expanded the deputy role to a full time £50,000-a-year position and dropped his mate from the same village into the non-job.
Next came the revelation about how much hospitality Mr Lloyd was enjoying while in office, including hobnobbing with England manager Roy Hodgson at Vicarage Road. This annus horribilis climaxed when he was questioned on BBC2’s Newsnight over perks and "cronyism" in its review of the first year of police commissioners.
Following such a torrid start to his tenure, Mr Lloyd has become more cautious about his public perception. The fact he advertised for a new chief spin doctor on a handsome salary of up to £75,000-a-year, indicates the acute urgency felt at the commissioner’s office about the need to improve his image.
Yet in recent months, Mr Lloyd has retreated behind a phalanx of publicly-funded PRs. Now he prefers to communicate to the public via staid press releases or set-piece speeches, such as his forthcoming address at the University of Hertfordshire.
A noticeable change in this new timid approach is this paper can no longer contact Mr Lloyd directly about police issues in the county. When we call we get the answerphone and invariably one of his press officers then gets in contact with us to find out what the query is. Then a bland statement is sent over. Previously Mr Lloyd had been happy to talk about issues over the phone and even answer the odd question.
When we queried why David was unable to speak for himself his well-remunerated understrapper replied that the constabulary comms team was now "handling" his press enquiries. When I pressed the matter further I was told he’s very busy these days, he has a lot of meetings apparently. So it has been decided it is best if all queries were dealt with by his spin doctors.
However, the insidious aspect of this new strategy is the police commissioner is now dodging attempts to question him directly over sweeping changes he is making to the county’s force.
This is not a unique tactic being deployed by the police commissioner. Politicians often want to send over statements, particularly on difficult issues.
Usually so they can choreograph an anodyne response with their advisors. The result is inevitably vapid tripe, usually scripted by someone other than the politician who is making the actual decisions.
Mr Lloyd’s reluctance to answer calls from this paper did prompt me to head up to his editors’ meeting earlier this month, where Mr Lloyd does discuss issues with representatives from local papers.
Here I did have an opportunity for a brief exchange with him. But this was curtailed when one of this press team felt things were getting off topic.
Pretty much every other senior politician in Hertfordshire is willing to speak directly with reporters about ongoing issues. Questioning politicians directly is an integral part of any healthy democratic system. Without those exchanges people who make crucial decisions are insulated from any dissenting views.
And the most concerning aspect for voters in Hertfordshire is the county’s highest paid politician now seems unable to answer questions for himself.
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