Will you vote for the police and crime commissioners?

Police passing out parade, Hendon Who do you want in charge of the front line?

Thursday's election of police and crime commissioners elections in England and Wales has the whiff of a story where the headline is written: Will it be the no-show low turnout election that nobody understands nor wants?

But why should you vote? Does it really matter if you don't? Policing minister Damian Green says it does.

I met him shortly before election rules kicked in, which restrict what ministers can do and say about impending polls. I asked him for his best pitch to the voters who simply don't get what it's all about.

"Crime and Policing is a hugely important issue to everyone," he said. "For the first time ever, people will have a chance to vote on a range of offers about who should hold the police in their area to account.

"The person being elected the PCC won't be the chief constable running the police, but will be there as the voice of the people to hold the police to account.

"They will have to justify themselves on a continuous basis. They will be very important and powerful figures in everyone's local community and that's why people should vote."

But don't chief constables do all that fairly well already?

"Some people will be satisfied with their local police," said Mr Green.

Damian Green Damian Green: "If you don’t vote, then don’t complain afterwards"

"But there isn't a single organisation in the world that isn't improved by having proper scrutiny.

"Having an elected person there will be a much more powerful voice for the public. If you don't vote, then don't complain afterwards because you have had the chance to express your views."

But what if you still don't want to vote because you don't think it will work? Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers has warned of tension between top cops and the PCCs.

Damian Green's answer is that a good PCC will basically be someone who's an efficient bureaucrat - good at managing large organisations and the conflicts within them.

"I think the ideal relationship [between PCCs and chiefs] will be supportive but challenging," he said.

"The chief constables that I have spoken to say that the biggest danger is becoming too cosy, rather than becoming too challenging."

Uncovering cover-ups

Critics may dismiss that answer as away-day workshop speak - but supporters of the shift to PCCs say elected commissioners could prevent police forces from closing ranks when they need to admit to their mistakes.

There's no better example than the deaths at Hillsborough, given that some of the officers involved in the tragedy could yet face criminal investigation over a cover-up.

"One of the huge advantages of the PCCs will be a massive increase in transparency of all police operations because instantly there will be one person whose whole job is to ask what happened when something went wrong," said Damian Green.

"They themselves will have to face the people in an election at some stage and therefore will have had to investigate and reveal and, most importantly if something goes wrong, change the system so that it does not happen again.

"Every institution has had to become more transparent. We live in an age when it is much more difficult to keep secrets. Politics, journalism and banking are changing rapidly - so now must the police."

Ultimately, it is going to come down to the quality of the candidates chosen by the voters. Party machines are out there trying to mobilise their voters but there are also some high-profile independent candidates who are in with a shout, despite their complaints of a lack of official funding for a mail shot.

Others will struggle to make any impact - and some stand to lose the whopping £5,000 candidate deposit because they must achieve 5% of the first preference vote.

But in some areas it hasn't stopped them from standing anyway. Ministers will no doubt be cheered that Devon and Cornwall's voters have 10 candidates to choose from - the highest tally of any force area. Yet next door in Avon and Somerset, there are only four candidates.

Most candidate literature repeats familiar refrains; they pledge to cut red tape, put the victims at the heart of the system and protect the front line.

But when it comes to policies, there are some real differences out there - once you cut through the key bullet points which look very similar from candidate to candidate.

Some candidates want to press on with more privatisation of back office roles. Others oppose that kind of thing entirely. Then there are candidates who want voters to stump up more to pay for the police, to offset cuts from central government.

The only thing that is clear is that the national policing picture will be far from uniform in years to come - with PCCs finding their own ways to do things, potentially at odds with the way ministers would like them to do it.

But what's the measure of success for PCCs? What happens if the turnout is lower than that for the European Parliament - below 40% in the UK at every election?

"Success will be better policing, more transparent and accountable policing that results in crime being fought and reduced in ways that individual local communities recognise," said Damian Green. "What matters is reduction in crime."

Dominic Casciani Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    Just spoil your ballot, the more people do this, the more they realise we (the people) dont want this total waste of money !

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.

    I won't be voting as other people have said. I have know idea who the candidates are & what they claim to stand for.

  • Comment number 545.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    I honestly don't think that there is a lot of point voting and I don't like the fact that candidates stand for political parties if the PCC is going to be of any use (which I doubt) they should be non political and not subject to the whime of whichever party they belong to

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    If the %'s are work out right spoilt votes could stop them from getting there deposits back as they need 5% of the vote to get there deposit back

  • rate this

    Comment number 542.

    clearly you fail to understand not voting is just explained away as apathy but spolit ballot papers is not it shows people not agreeing with the options. I fail to see how in any real democracy we fail to have the option on all ballots to vote for none of the above that would be real democractic choice so spoil your paper send a real message to government

  • rate this

    Comment number 541.

    I have received no information on who is standing in my area or what they claim they are standing for.

    As one of them is going to be my representative, what does that say about their interest in me or my opinion?

  • rate this

    Comment number 540.

    none attendance gives a stronger message

    NO it does not as they can then work the vote to say it was ok but if the number of spoilt votes is higher that the winning vote the percentage of the vote is lower for the winner there fore it shows on the records the people did not want this

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    In times of austerity how the Gov't have the audacity to increase the cost of beaurocracy is beyond belief. The cost of this is going to be far beyond just the salary and perks of the incumbent in post , they will have an enterage of back up staff too.As much as it goes against my voting beliefs I think that a none attendance gives a stronger message .

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    because in some places schools are used as polling stations and the children get the day off school
    but if they had really thought about it they could of made it so this election was done at half term but that takes brains to think of some thing so simple

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    So we are giving our vote to have another person on the tax payers payroll and pension rights that go with the job that as a none job if there Police and crime panel is not on there side

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    What is Gove going to do about schools closing for elections? Why should children lose a day's education so that people can vote for something nobody understands, wants or understands and to give a few politically affiliated PCCs a nice salary and a pension at the end of it, all paid for by us taxpayers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    I shan't vote, for the first time ever, as I do not believe in political parties running the police.

    In Hertfordshire there is only the choice of the 3 main parties (and u...) no independents. We need genuine locals and independents for the PCC

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    We are been stiched up by the government if we don't go and vote
    The PCC is there only to do some of the job the Home Secretary: Theresa May
    So the Home Secretary can say to us that it was not me it was the PCC

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    There has been no communication, I don't know anything about the people who put themselves forward. My friends have the same experience and won't vote either. Instead of they coming to me, I have to find out about them.It is another political move, where the PCC, who have little or no experience, will be talking without action and follow the party line and get paid a large salary for doing so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    dont let the politicans get away with this your no vote is something they can ignore. Spoil your paper and they have to count it. Its the only way to ensure your voice is heard if you dont support this loony idea

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    please go and vote spoil your vote to show you do not want this change if the spoilt votes are higher then the winning candidates vote the winner as not got a mandate to be in office
    do not let the politicians make out that there voters sayed at home

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    I shan't vote. I have only received information from one of the candidates (Tory-affiliated); I have no idea who the other candidates are or what they stand for (presumably other party political puppets).

    What place has party politics in the role of an "independent" PCC? Nobody asked for this and few seem to think it's a good idea. Another huge waste of taxpayers' money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    I've just been to spoil my paper on the grounds that there is little info on the candidates other than the party supporting them. Don't want politicians having any obvious connection with local policing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    Police and crime panel is made up the same way the police authorities were
    Police and crime panel can over rule the PCC
    So we are giving our vote to have another person on the tax payers payroll and pension rights that go with the job that as a none job if there Police and crime panel is not on there side


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