Sunday, 26 August 2012

Elected Police Commissioners won’t extend the franchise they risk damaging it further.

As almost everyone apart from the plan’s boosters in government predicted the forthcoming elections for Police and Crime Commissioners look like being a shambles. With a little over three months to go the public seem either unaware or indifferent to the whole expensive farrago.

Concerns have been expressed about the timing of the ballot, the likelihood of a turnout even lower than the measly twenty percent achieved in most council elections and the large number of ex MPs and government ministers standing as candidates. Katie Ghose of the Electoral Reform Society told the BBC last week ‘It has been a shambles. They have decided to hold a winter election even though we know that drives turnout down.’

A low turnout means that the new elected Police Commissioners will have only a tenuous mandate and so be unable to deliver the radical change most will have promised out on the stump. That such a basic fact of political life seems to have by-passed everyone from the PM down is both surprising and shocking.

Blair Gibbs of the right wing think tank Policy Exchange, also speaking to the BBC, said the new Commissioners would represent and ‘extension of the franchise’ and would put ‘an important executive figure at a local level.’ He went on to say that ‘if Police and Crime Commissioners do their jobs well policing will improve and the streets will be safer.’

In light of the potential lack of any realistic mandate mentioned above the question ‘but what if they don’t?’ begs to be asked; so far I haven’t received a convincing answer.

At the start of the year I wrote that you could judge the lack of value elected Police Commissioners will bring to public life by the stampede of ‘has beens’ rushing to put their names forward to be candidates. Nothing I have seen or heard since has changed my mind, if anything it has made me more concerned about the potential this ill conceived plan has to damage out already fragile franchise.

Everything about it suggests the actions of a political elite so impressed by its own cleverness it blithely ignores the likely consequences. The refusal to provide candidates with a free mail shot as happens in general elections has all but frozen out independent candidates in favour of party funded place people, the media have ignored the elections making a low turnout a certainty.

If Blair Gibbs thinks this is going to strengthen the franchise then he’s employing the magical thinking all too typical of our out of touch political elite and their hangers on. Simply by creating another official to oversee policing, with the salary, pension and perks to match, won’t improve policing or make the streets safer.

To do that the police need to be given the resources they need to do their job and operational power needs to be devolved to officers on the ground. None of this will happen in a force pressed from all sides by government cuts and the spiteful, ill thought out ‘reforms’ put forward under the Windsor review.

As for ‘engaging’ the public, the holy grail of our current political discourse, that could be done better and more cheaply by reforming the existing Police Authorities. Largely by removing a few councillors from comfortable billets and using the funds saved to involve and empower communities.

Police and Crime Commissioners who have been elected by almost nobody and so have neither the mandate or the confidence to act decisively won’t be champions of public interest, they’ll be hostages of the party hierarchy from whom they have received patronage. This will not extend our fragile franchise, it risks damaging it even more.

And Another Thing

Try as I might I can’t work up much in the way of righteous indignation about the antics of Prince Harry.

About the only thing I can think about the ‘scandal’ of his antics in a Vegas hotel room with a bevy of showgirls is that the fact they were the end result of a game of ‘naked billiards’ means that F Scott Fitzgerald was right, the rich are different.

Apart from that it seems like the sort of behaviour you might expect from a not too bright twenty seven year old to whom life has fame, wealth; but no real purpose in life.

A women’s group on Tyneside has called for copies of E L James’s ‘mummy porn’ mega-seller ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ to be burnt because it glamorises violence against women. There is a urgent need to draw attention to the horrors of domestic violence, and not just that experienced by women, but this it no way to go about doing so.

Whatever you may think of its literary merits, or lack of the same, E L James’s book no more condones violence against women that the average crime novel condones murder. Both are works of escapism unconnected to the world as their readers know it, by failing to recognise that the group in question is damaging what is an important and too often ignored campaign.

The torch relay for the Paralympics got under way this week; unlike the one for its sister event is has been dignified, unpretentious and mercifully short. There are no dubious ‘celebrities’ involved, no oppressive security measured and the media coverage has avoided undue hysteria. It seems the Paralympics are where the true values of the Olympic movement are to be found.

And finally Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon died yesterday. In an age when the title is applied unthinkingly to people who kick footballs or actors with stunt doubles this quiet, modest and remarkable man showed what a hero is really like.

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