Smoke And Mirrors

Well, what jolly fun back in England. Every police force in England & Wales now has a Police and Crime Commissioner to tell it what to focus on. No doubt the said PCCs will need a fully staffed office with secretarial and IT facilities, a Deputy to do the bits that the PCC doesn’t fancy doing, and a string of departmental heads to do those things that neither of them want to be bothered with. Each will need a salary, a pension plan, office space in which to locate a desk and a computer of some sort to access those IT systems. All of this used to be handled a police authority of around 17 members sitting on a part time basis for a daily fee and expenses. The rest of the time, when not involved in overseeing local policing they got on with other useful things. The composition of the authority was carefully controlled - I know this because at one time I sat on the body responsible for selecting and appointing magistrate members - with the majority of members being local councillors, but appointed in proportion to the representation of the main political parties on the local authorities covered by the police force, a small number of magistrates, and a number of seats reserved for lay members. Between them they brought a range of skills and experience to the task of overseeing the general direction of policing in their area, and of appointing a chief constable when necessary. The chief constable and his or her senior management team were responsible for delivering effective policing. All well and good, said the politicians, but (bowing before a current shibboleth) they aren’t democratic. They are a shadowy group of appointees with no democratic mandate, and the public has no idea who most of them are. And so £100 million has been spent on rectifying matters. PCC candidates have presented themselves to a fascinated public, who have weighed their characters and qualifications and have placed their vote in favour of the most suitable candidate. Unfortunately, none of the £100m was allocated to giving candidates the necessary funds to present themselves, their experience and their plans to the public. The result I see, is that only around 15% of those entitled to vote bothered to do so, and mainly voted for the placemen and women put up by the main political parties. Actually, that is not quite true; there was a significant number who used their ballot paper to explicitly state their opposition to the whole idea of PCCs, however chosen. Had I been there I would have been among that number. Firstly, I have yet to hear anybody explain - convincingly or otherwise - why the police should be subject to democratic oversight. Every serving police officer, at whatever rank, occupies the office of constable. The office of constable is a Crown office. In other words, and in order to avoid the politicisation of the police service, their loyalty and their accountability is not to parliament, but to the sovereign. That independence is jeopardised if the person to whom the chief constable is accountable on a day-to-day basis represents a political party. Police authorities represented a cross-section of the community served. Secondly, if someone can demonstrate that democratic oversight is a) desirable and b) more successful, then why are the other emergency services not treated in the same way? What about the prison service? The armed forces? The public utilities? Ofwat, Ofcom, Ofgen, Ofqual, and all the other Ofs? Finally, when even those who did vote freely admitted to the media that they had little or no idea who they were voting for, nor what they were voting for, how can anyone other than a career politician have the gall to suggest that these PCCs have a democratic mandate?

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