The first elections for the newly created post of Police and Crime Commissioner are to take place in England and Wales this coming week. Voting is an important right, so, receipt of my Poll Card serving to remind of my hitherto scant consideration, I’ve been attempting to gen up, via the Home Office, and the dedicated information site, wherefrom you can navigate to information on the candidates standing for the privilege of overseeing how policing will be, err, ‘prioritised’ in your area.
Elected PCCs will be required to swear an ‘oath of impartiality’, which is worded so as to ‘… make clear that they are there to serve the people, not a political party or any one section of their electorate.’ So why, then, when I go to the information pages of the candidates for Hampshire, do I find that five of six are standing on a party political ticket, with much of their grandstanding tantamount to party political statement, including predictable cross-party digs?
For example, Michael Mates, the Conservative Party Candidate, wants to:
‘… remove the endless targets and additional bureaucracy of Labour’s failed plans, and put more police back on the streets…’
Jacqui Rayment, the Labour Party Candidate, attacks the coalition government, promising she will:
‘… stand up for Hampshire and IOW against Tory/Lib Dem cuts to the police.’
Liberal Democrat David Goodall, however, whilst reminding us that considering other than himself or the Tory candidate is a wasted vote because:
‘Across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Labour and UKIP are a poor third and can’t win.’
contradicts his party’s coalition partner representative:
‘Hampshire Conservatives have let down residents on crime. They voted to make further cuts to the police budget, ignoring warnings from the Chief Constable that this could remove 100 police officers from our streets.’
But it’s not about a political vote (is it?), so why appeal on the grounds of the area’s political voting preferences? And I’m confused even more by the UKIP offering, Stephen West, who goes all macho on us:
‘As your Police and Crime Commissioner, I will tackle crime at its source, with zero tolerance of anti-social behaviour and protect the vulnerable.’ [sic]
Tackle crime at its source? The police’s remit includes law enforcement, criminal apprehension and crime prevention. But can a PCC really commit to an addressing of the social problems and/or institutional power abuse that engender crime?
Interestingly, West is of the opinion that:
‘… verbally abusing people is not just anti-social, it is a criminal offence.
Hmm, begs the question, then, where is he on Section 5 of the Public Order Act? And what of those other candidates (Mates, Rayment, and the ‘Independent’ Simon Hayes) who cite ‘anti-social behaviour/crime’? What specifically do they mean by this? Do they extend it to encompass the seriously anti-social criminality/incompetence of those whose profligate greed has inflicted so much real damage on the lives of so many others? In fact, before I decide whom will get my ‘X’ on 15 November, I might like to know of each candidate:
- What is your position on Section 5 of the Public Order Act?
- What is your take on the lack of adequate public interest defence in the Libel Reform Bill currently in progress?
- Will you uphold the right to free expression, or accede to the ‘offended’ protests of those in your jurisdiction who cry wolf?
The candidates’ respective political parties already have policies on crime. (At least they claimed to have in their election manifestos.) We thus know, and so can predict, where candidates ‘representing’ a particular party ought to be coming from, and their language variously addresses – prioritises – the concerns of the voters of the parties they represent. So, is this whole exercise really a concession that crime is so out of hand that it is impossible to fight all of it, and therefore resources are to be steered towards those aspects that most bother the (or bother the most) residents of a particular area? It might seem obvious, but it doesn’t make much sense to me. This, it seems, could become, in effect, another vehicle vote for expressing discontent with the incumbent government.
Policing is meant to be apolitical. The law as is applies to everywhere/everybody. At least, it’s supposed to. Should its application be subjected to subjective pressures? Are we going to see people convicted for certain crimes in one area, whereas perpetrators of the same ‘crime’ elsewhere will walk (or vice-versa) for reasons of political expediency? Is this recognition that different areas have different anti-crime priorities an admission that respective Chief Constables cannot be trusted to allocate resources appropriately? The elected PCC will have the authority to dismiss the Chief Constable. A potential eventuality, to which the latter, an experienced career police officer and public servant, would not, one imagines, take too kindly.
I envisage problems. Though it is presently uncertain whether Newsnight will ever again be able to repeatedly inquire, ‘Did you threaten to overrule him?’