The voice of the majority is no proof of justice

In less than one month, on November 15th, elections are being held for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC).   Not that you would know, given the nearly complete lack of publicity it has received.  It doesn’t bode well for turnout numbers.

Ever since the Tories introduced the PCC concept, I’ve struggled with the purpose of it, or what benefits the average citizen would see against what the current commissioning structure provides.  Will it usher in smarter budgets at a time of austerity, a louder voice for citizens, a better democracy, or will we be saddled with concentrated power, a draconian knee-jerk justice system or whacky pet projects?

Early on in the push for PCCs, some candidates withdrew from the process due to the punitive nature of the qualifying rules relating to the criminal records of candidates.  A PCC candidate can’t stand if they have a past criminal record, even if those crimes were committed as a juvenile.  Many were from petty crimes from many years ago, some committed as children, some as a result of circumstances and lifestyles which the candidates left behind long ago.  People have been held back from engaging in a democratic process over long forgotten crimes.  Not a good start for democracy.

It’s no surprise that the deposit for standing, a whopping £5,000, has put many people off standing a a candidate.  Raising the money, and then being willing to risk losing it on an electoral gamble is a barrier that most people wouldn’t be able to breach.  Labour have a clear advantage in the PCC funding stakes as the party will centrally fund candidates.  Tory candidates are expected to raise their funds themselves from local party donors.  Independents will have to find the money themselves, or enjoy the benevolence of a generous backer.

Add to that £5,000 deposit, any candidate who is serious about being elected needs to have funding for any kind of effective publicity.  Just hoping someone will vote for you without any kind of campaign or media exposure almost guarantees electoral ambivalence.

Most of the candidates who will end up with their names on the ballot paper will come from party political backgrounds.  That means they come from the same networks, the same social groups.  Those connections give an access to business people, local government bureaucrats and politicians; an advantageous level of access to people and information that those on the outside of the political hot-house could only dream of.  In addition, there is a support network for advice, marketing, press relations, even an army of feet on the high streets handing out leaflets and callers on the end of promotional phone lines.  The result: political power will be further concentrated into existing party groupings.

Spent and forgotten crimes, a costly deposit, a lack of media exposure, no support network and the difficulty of breaking through a rigid political structure aren’t the best ingredients for an open democracy.

The new role, and the nature of it being subject to that next election in a few years time, could also present risks to existing structures and initiatives, where hunting the populist vote may mean less popular or complex and difficult to describe projects could be dropped in favour of policies designed to put sound bites before efficacy.  As we saw with the Prof David Nutt episode, the electorally pragmatic temptation for politicians to put votes before evidence and facts can be just too tempting.

Drug treatment, youth crime reduction and offender rehabilitation schemes could all fall under the knife of a commissioner desperate to satiate the hang-em and flog-em blood lust of the daily mail commentariat.  Such initiatives could face mortal cuts, funnelling money from prevention schemes to commission more visible policies, or even pie-in-sky  headline grabbers (like Rangers) with an eye on the next election.

And once a PCC is in, they’re in.  If they perform poorly, do something stupid or wrong, the electorate are stuck with them until the next election.  Only the Secretary of State can remove them from post.

The goal should be the improvement of police services and crime prevention; lower crime rates and safer communities, and a police force that considers itself part of the community, rather than above it.

The Police and Crime Commissioners initiative risks making justice even more remote from the citizenry, locking decision making on budgets and commissioning into yet another cycle of political electioneering, and creating another professional political cadre detached from the realities of crime and justice and the concerns of the average citizen on the streets.

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6 responses to “The voice of the majority is no proof of justice”

  1. Peter W Skevington says :

    I have deactivated twitter account, because of unwelcome trolling, but will continue to read your blog. Recent BBC Radio4 broadcast a very thought provoking play about a non legally or police trained PCC interfering in a highly sensitive operational police matter. Whatever our political stance both Butler and Baird are IMO credible candidates and, thankfully, UKIP have fielded what I would describe as a “safe pair of hands” candidate.

  2. Peter W Skevington says :

    There appears to be no mandate either locally or nationally for elected PCCs,and, even usually well informed members of the electorate with whom I am acquainted seem to have little or no knowledge of the role and purpose of PCCs. Turnout could be embarassingly low; in Northumbria both Baird and Butler have to their credit campaigned and engaged with electorate, but Lib Dem candidate has low profile. At least David Potts used his twitter postings to present his views to those who read his twitterings, but the official UKIP candidate has little or no opportunity or time to canvass or promote himself.I would imagine that most of the electorate would prefer to see the money being spent upon and allocated to PCCs used to fund police services throughout the country.

    • brian paget says :

      Peter, it’s sad to see you drop off Twitter. I hope you return soon.

      I think the PCC project will be a waste of money and resources, and lead people to be even more distanced from politics. I think there’s also a real risk of a fracture of policing and commissioning at a strategic level between forces.

      No one has yet provided a convincing argument for PCCs. When policy is built on ideological foundations, it’s bound to fall sooner or later.

      • Peter W Skevington says :

        Took advice from legal beagle pal, who said best to deactivate twitter account, then monitor situation, but thanks for your concern. I agree with you that the PCC concept is an example of ill thought through ideological, back of the envelope stuff, but that is no reflection upon some excellent, well qualified candidates who are standing. I attend CAFs and PACTs as well as the Police and public forums, sadly attendance at PACT in our area was negligible, though admittedly a relatively low crime rate , but the cops made themselves available and answered questions and any criticisms raised. Have met Vera Baird and heard her speak, as for Phil Butler had professional contact with his Economic Crime Unit and occasional meetings with officers. I am sincerely of the view that unleashing someone as PCC, who has no legal or law enforcement training and background could prove potentially problematic for both the police service and the public that they serve, at least Northumbria should avoid that. One thing for certain you will be keeping an informed and perceptive eye on PCCs, and your opinions will be worth reading. Are you going to vote in the PCC election?

      • brian paget says :

        I’m not sure. Who to vote for? Other than independent, the choice is drawn between the party political lines the initiative was meant to avoid. All of them belong to parties which do not represent my values, and are tied to sound bite politics. Will people voting for a ‘least worst’ candidate help add credibility to a project that doesn’t deserve it?

  3. Peter W Skevington says :

    I am a Labour Party member so it will come as no surprise to you that I am voting for Vera Baird. However, had Labour chosen someone without experience of policing and the criminal justice system, I might have abstained, or, if there was a strong independent candidate voted for him/her. The expected very low turnout may well dent the credibility of this project, how Cameron&co explain that away, or spin it, will prove interesting.

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