Political Promise

Elected police commissioners is another hypocrisy

In Jonny Roberts on July 29, 2010 at 11:43 am

By Jonny Roberts

More and more it becomes clear that on the three big public services the Lib Dems don’t get a say. This coalition is Conservative-led on education, health and police and Lib Dem supporters will have to like it or lump it.

Simon Hughes says the Lib Dems would have voted against the Academies Bill had they been in opposition, surely they would be screaming at Theresa May’s proposals for Britain’s police as well had they returned to the green seats they’ve warmed for decades – this is the price of being the add-on accessory to government.

Credit where its due, at least Ms May has not done a Gove or Lansley, steam rolling into radical reform, this is a Green Paper, the way reform is supposed to be done. I’m also not going to rubbish the idea of volunteers taking on police roles, there’s plenty where those wanting to do their part, an example is policing crowds at a premiere in Leicester Square. This could be fun, rewarding, looks good on a CV and reduces the cost of policing such events. Recruiting a few volunteer police in these more ambassadorial roles isn’t a terrible idea, though I will watch developments with intrigue – Volunteer police must not become an excuse to cut real police numbers nor should they be sent into genuinely dangerous situations without pay. The Lib Dems pledged 10,000 more police in the election campaign; it would worry me and should worry them if these plans lead to reductions in the number of paid police.

The sillier element of the Green Paper is the plan to bring in elected police commissioners for the 43 forces in England and Wales. Some have attacked the idea of politicising the police as dangerous and any day-to-day influence would certainly be outrageous, chief constables need to remain the managers of the force but in all realism police need accountability and the Home Secretary is normally the only person to provide this. BNP candidates will not win, the main parties will make sure of that, Tory candidates running on a ‘youths are the root of all evil’ ticket winning in the suburbs and countryside is more likely. Quite how pitting young vs. old will sit with the cosy idea of the Big Society is another thing.

My dislike for this policy is not against the ‘politicising’ element in essence but it is against the utmost hypocrisy of this coalition government that the announcement highlights once again. Firstly we are trying to save money, yes? Big bad deficit? Labour said there’s no money left? Ok, that’s the message coming from the government loud and clear, so why spend £millions on running these new nationwide elections in 2012. Secondly, if this is about real localism then the ‘most radical shake-up to the police force in 50 years’ isn’t radical enough I’m afraid Theresa. 43 forces spread out across England and Wales isn’t particularly local. The wide remit of Thames Valley Police illustrates my point – policing concerns in Newbury and its surrounding villages may be very different from those in the centre of High Wycombe. If the Tories really want localism there is an alternative that could improve the effectiveness of the police and maybe even save money. Give Wales one police force and hand it over to the Welsh Assembly alongside their new law making powers once the referendum says ‘yes’ next year. Then take England’s 39 forces and merge them into 9 regions – The Met + 8 regional forces equipped with anti-terrorism, serious fraud capabilities etc. This could all link into a much smaller than proposed national service. The local element comes from each town or city having a Town Council and even Parish Council liaising with their local police station to draw out a local policing strategy and hold their local head police officer to account. It would be preferable that we would have Regional Assemblies alongside this reform and within those changes a ‘Home Secretary’ for each region and then a more local equivalent in each lower tier local government but that’s for another blog (see my last).

The third and biggest hypocrisy in this proposal is the proposal itself. We can look at this new democratic structure in two-ways – both make the coalition look foolish. Either we ask why do we get elected police commissioners but no elected health commissioner to oversee our local NHS provision? why no elected education commissioner to make sure our academies which report only to the Secretary of State are delivering for our communities? Alternatively we ask if health and education is being handed down to the professionals, why not ensure policing is in the hands of the police? These are the questions Labour should be asking of the coalition and asking loud too so that the public takes notice, this is what good opposition must do especially when the public is so distracted – they’re worried about whether or not they’ll have a job next year.


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