Friday, 16 November 2012

The Crime of Policing Commissioners

Basically I am for almost anything that increases the level of democracy and accountability. So I should, logically be cheering today’s election of Police and Crime Commissioners. Instead I have abstained and haven’t voted.

Yet, I support not just the general notion of increased democratic accountability but actually, also the policy.

I think it does make sense to have policing priorities influenced by a democratically elected and accountable representative – It’s an entirely sensible idea and it’s one of the ideas that was outlined in a book called ‘The Plan – Twelve Months to Renew Britain’ written by Douglas Carswell (the MP who got rid of the Speaker in the last Parliament) and Dan Hannan (him that makes all those great rebel speeches in the European ‘Parliament’.) 

And, unlike most of the people that live in Surrey, I have also met the Conservative candidate, Julie Iles on more than one occasion, like her very much and think she would/will make an excellent commissioner.

So why didn’t I vote?

Well. Essentially because this whole thing is a great idea that has been completely undermined by utterly shocking execution – a worryingly familiar trademark of the coalition government.

The problems with it are as follows:

1) Candidates have been selected by National Political Parties

 - thus greatly reducing the element of local accountability. Essentially what this means is that candidates have been selected by the local Political party. In a largely Conservative voting area like Surrey, it therefore means that the Conservative candidate will almost certainly win. So will this person have democratic legitimacy? No. They will have been selected by a very small number of people (probably a few hundred – I am guessing) from a shortlist… In the case of the Conservative candidate, they will have been selected from a small group of Surrey’s Conservative membership who are not representative of the constituency – mostly old age pensioners.

This election needed to consist of independent candidates who could really compete to win – a real battles of ideas. Instead it has become yet another democratic travesty.

2) The Function has not been Explained

Virtually no-one has any idea what the job of a Crime and Policing Commissioner entails – what their responsibilities are, what they can and can’t do. What happens if people are not satisfied with them.. etc etc.

What on earth possessed the government to roll-out this policy without making any effort whatsoever to educate anyone about the role? Without this step in place, why would anyone feel compelled to vote?

3) The Candidates have not been able to Communicate with the Electorate

The population of Surrey is over 1 million people – a huge electorate. The only way that candidates could be expected to communicate and differentiate themselves with this number of people would be via printed material or with media campaigns – but as no-one has any interest or understanding of what this is all about the media have no interest in it (see previous point) and even the usual opportunity to send a free mailshot to each home (as in general elections) has been denied. The only option for the candidates was to do local ‘hustings’ in village halls.

If the candidates were to speak to 100 different people at a public meeting every night it would take around 20 years for them to communicate to the voting public in their constituencies - that's assuming of course that they could be persuaded to turn up…

So why was this thing such a balls up?

Don't know. But, at the last reshuffle, Nick Herbert MP (Minister for Policing and Justice) was one of the surprise demotions. He returned to the back-benches amidst rumours that he was having arguments with other ministers so severe that it was reported that he was not on speaking terms with one or more.

This policy was Nick Herbert’s brainchild. He is a smart fella. I am sure he would not have rolled-it-out in this way intentionally. My guess therefore is that he fought for the resources to do it properly, was denied them, and therefore had little choice but to leave his ministerial post.

No doubt we will discover the story in some political memoir of the future.

The thing that really winds me up is that this was a real opportunity to increase democratic accountability yet the shocking implementation of it will completely undermine not simply this election but many future possibilities of increasing democratic accountability.

So why bother voting..


Post a Comment