Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Elected Police Commissioners

I know, I know, it's a very exciting topic, but please try and control yourself long enough to read what I have to say.

About twenty months ago, it was included in the Coalition Agreement that this Parliament would see the introduction of elected police commissioners. The reason this idea existed in the first place is because in the wake of the expenses scandal, the Conservative Party wanted to appear to be doing something to reform politics, without actually changing anything. For this reason they decided to support recall elections for MPs, primaries and elected police commissioners instead of reforms which would have actually improved our democracy such as a new voting system, lowering the voting age or seriously pushing for an elected House of Lords.

The elections for police commissioners, it has been announced, will take place in November of this year. Autumn and Winter are famously bad times to hold elections as apparently people are less keen on exercising their voice in democracy when there's a chance they might get chilly, and one can only assume that they are being held then, as opposed to May with the other elections, to force turnout down even lower than the 40% we see at local elections. But this may not be a bad thing, as elected police commissioners is a resoundingly awful idea.

Firstly, what makes the Conservative Party think that anyone will give enough of a rat's ass about who their police commissioner is to read up on their candidates and go out and vote? Only 60% of people do this (mostly without the "reading up" part) in general elections, to choose their government, amid a storm of media hype. Drop this to the previously mentioned 40% for local elections and it begins to look likely that the miserable percentage of people who turn out to put a cross next to their party's police commissioner could sink even lower than this already very low benchmark.

And do we really want a politicised police force? The police are surely expected to be neutral enforcers of the law. How would the policing of, say, a demonstration that a particular commissioner does or doesn't support work? And what about a police commissioner being elected who favours the legalisation of certain drugs, for example. Will we then see an area of the country where drugs laws are not enforced? Police commissioners don't make laws, they are enforcers of them, which is a role that should be neutral both with regards to the people being policed and the laws being enforced.

Next comes this issue of who will be running. The first article I read on candidates was this one ( on the BBC, which details plans of former Welsh First Minister Alun Michael to run for a commissionership. Delving into Michael's history we see that he has been a reporter, a youth worker, and spent 25 years as an MP save for a brief spell as a member of the Welsh Parliament. Not to launch into personal criticism, but I would much rather have, you know, a police officer as police commissioner. What, about a career in politics, qualifies you to run a police force? I know the same criticism could be levelled at electing governments, but it's necessary to vote for people in government as they direct national policy in a way police commissioners don't or at least shouldn't.

There's only one way I want my police commissioners to be selected, and that's by police. People who know what they're talking about in the field of policing. I don't know what this selection process should be, but whatever they do at the moment will probably be fine. Personally, I don't have a clue who the best police commissioner will be. I don't know enough about policing to judge. And, with no insult intended to my reader, most of the general public probably don't know much more than I do. I think a body of people who know everything they know about law enforcement from watching Police Academy is probably not the best source of wisdom on the matter.

 It's particularly ironic that the Conservative Party who not a year ago argued against a new, fairer, voting system based on a fictionally-constructed cost and the basis that "there's no appetite for change" are now forcing a pointless election on people. The Liberal Democrats decision not to field candidates for £5000 a pop (why so high? *cough* Tories *cough*) may be a principled stand, or cynically-motivated necessity based on the party's finances, or lack thereof, and the fact that following recent electoral performance a few lost deposits may be in the pipeline.

So I urge you, come November, not to vote in this hideous masquerade. Personally I will be spoiling my ballot. If we can force the turnout levels even lower than the pitiful number our overlords are surely expecting than perhaps the whole idea will be scrapped.


Since writing, this story has come to my attention . A police officer is facing disciplinary measure over tweeting in a personal capacity about police funding. Apparently this is prohibited as it may "undermine public confidence and bring discredit on the service". And just what will happen to public confidence in police when their local force is constantly under partisan attack from politicians eager to win votes? If a single police officer being openly political is a bad thing, it's surely even worse for a commissioner?