Monday, 19 November 2012

A plague on all our houses

The abysmal turnout in last week's elections for Police and Crime commissioners, averaging below 15%, sends a raspberry to our political establishment.  There are in my view three reasons for the debacle:

  1. the posts, and thus elections for them, are unnecessary;
  2. the organisation was staggeringly inept;
  3. the election  continued the stream of misrepresentations, distortions and  and self-serving attitude emanating from all our parties.
1. I suspect that the Tories (and this was exclusively a Tory idea, opposed by the Liberal Democrats and nothing to do with the coalition) felt they could jump on the "Laura Norder" bandwagon so frequently whipped up by the red-top newspapers,  have elected some of their traditional "hangers, floggers and ban-the woggers" and so appease alleged popular concerns about crime (the incidence of which all  statistics show is actually falling.)    The low turnout demonstrates that the public is either not actually as alarmed as the red-tops pretend and the Tories hoped,  or takes the view that politicians can't do much about it anyway.

2.  It was incredibly inept to hold the election in November (no longer a regular time for elections) and allow the candidates no free-post literature.  Why on earth introduce a democratic  innovation and give it the participants no assistance in publicising  their views?  David Cameron blames the media for giving the campaigns little publicity, but this is not, in my experience, true.  Both Radio 4 and our local television news service, Look North, made frequent references to the campaigns and candidates.  I believe the candidates also had spots on local radio.

3.  a)  We were told that the existing Police Authorities had no democratic accountability.  This is is untrue.  As far as I can make out,  in my own area 10 of the 18 members of the Authority in West Yorkshire are elected councillors from the local authorities authorities making up the area, so they do have some democratic credibility,

b)  We were told that a directly elected individual could better represent the views of  the public in the area far better than the existing system.  Even with a a mandate backed by a strong majority in a high turnout this would be nonsense.  Surely the 10 elected councillors in  an area a diverse as West Yorkshire can together form a better picture of  the various concerns than one individual. Presumably the eight appointed members have some additional experiences to add to the mix, though a  return to the old  Watch Committees, comprising very local councillors and magistrates before the centralising, big is better, craze, would have been better still.

c)  Our Police and Crimes Commissioner is to be paid a salary of £100 000 a year.  How this compares with the cost of the current Police Authority, with its members presumably collecting expenses, I don't know, but in an era of alleged austerity, when provision for the disabled and others in need of help from the public purse is being cut, this rightly sticks in the electorate's craw.

So altogether an "own goal" by the Tory populists which merely adds to the discredit to which our democracy is currently  being subjected


  1. Totally agree - we did not even know the names of the candidates. A pathetic exercise in futility.
    On the BBC surely Patten should go - after all he appointed Entwistle and failed to support him despite doubling his pay off. What are his qualifications to run the BBC? Just another of the fat cats leeching on the taxpayer.

  2. As to the democratic accountability, it was as I recall, a Conservative Government that removed control of the police service from the County Councils and set up what they are now pleased to call an undemocratic structure of management because they did not like the possibility of a local democratic oversight. These had replaced the old Watch Committees some time before. I may be wrong but I think it was the hand of Michael Howard behind it whose sensitivity to civil liberty was of course legendary.