PCCs and the democratic deficit

 

Some count centres reported having empty ballot boxes

And so the inquest begins. Why were the people of England and Wales so emphatically indifferent to being given the power to elect their police and crime commissioners (PCC)?

There will be arguments about the wisdom of holding an election in November, the lack of information, the fact that many details were only available online, concerns about politicisation of the police, the vast constituencies, the shortage of high-profile candidates and on and on.

Those were contributory factors, but I suspect the real flaw was something more fundamental - the voters were never persuaded they needed an elected police and crime commissioner.

The creation of PCCs was the centrepiece of Conservative proposals to reform the police in England and Wales. "Giving people democratic control over policing priorities is a huge step forward in empowering communities," the party manifesto claimed in 2010.

The coalition's Programme for Government retained the idea, arguing for radical reform of the criminal justice system, with directly elected individuals to make the police "much more accountable to the public they serve".

Start Quote

It's an American idea - they even vote for their sewage man”

End Quote

Earlier this year I met Gordon Wasserman, now Lord Wasserman, who was the architect of the Conservative party's PCC policy. A Canadian by birth, it was his experience of US law enforcement, particularly in New York and Philadelphia, which shaped his ideas.

"I want people to see their police commissioner in the street and say 'Hi Commissioner! How are you doing?'" he told me. When I suggested to him that this sounded rather un-British behaviour and that most people wouldn't even recognise their MP or council leader in the street, Lord Wasserman dismissed my scepticism.

However, I had reason to recall our conversation when I was in Lancashire recently, talking to local people about the PCC elections. "It's an American idea," one man told me. "Over there they vote for everything. They even vote for their sewage man. We don't do that here."

There is a perfectly good case to be made for greater accountability of the police.

The old police authorities were, in some cases, less than inspiring - "unaccountable and invisible" as the 2010 Tory manifesto put it.

Recent allegations of police corruption and institutional cover-up help make a case for more scrutiny, and all three major political parties at Westminster have talked about a need for reform of police governance.

David Cameron delivers election leaflets to support the Tory party's candidate for Avon and Somerset police and crime commissioner David Cameron out leafleting for the PCC elections

One can understand how some policy wonks and politicians became enthusiasts for extending democracy into policing - part of a wider agenda of community empowerment, localism and transparent governance.

Start Quote

I want people to see their police commissioner in the street and say 'Hi Commissioner! How are you doing?'”

End Quote Lord Wasserman, architect of the PCC policy

But it was a vision that never really escaped the rarefied world of Westminster think tanks. The public were not excited by the language of democratic empowerment - they were much more interested in someone stopping kids creating mischief and local dogs turning pavements into obstacle courses.

With both recorded crime and people's experience of crime and anti-social behaviour at their lowest levels in decades, the issue has slipped down the list of public concerns. Confidence in how the police are doing their job has been rising in recent years - the latest official figures suggest 62% of people agree with the statement "police and local councils are dealing with the crime issues that matter in the local area", up from 57%.

Neighbourhood policing has been a great success in most areas and there seems little evidence of profound frustration that police priorities are seriously awry.

As a consequence, getting the public out to vote for a highly-paid and relatively remote politician, to tackle a democratic deficit they weren't persuaded they had, was always going to be a hard sell.

It wasn't just that the weather was a bit chilly or that the candidates all seemed to be saying the same thing. It was that the electorate had not been convinced there was a need to change the system.

As a man in Lancashire put it to me: "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"

 
Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 456.

    Why can't the Government do something useful like ensuring that American multi-national firms pay tax on UK profits, and banks don't behave like crooks.
    Why send time and energy on selling forests, writing a "charter" for the NHS, asking people to vote on the Alternative Voting System, reforming the House of Lords and creating highly paid jobs for redundant MPs?
    Are these priorities?
    Alan

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 455.

    For those people who are wondering why 'None of the above' is not on any ballotpaper.

    That would show most elections are a sham.

    Please keep demanding it.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 454.

    446. vstrad Most Police Authority members are elected councillors. Having a team of 17 stops any 1 (PCCommisioner) person going off on a mad one because they're part of a team
    447. General Rab Voting should be compulsory BUT we should have a 'none of the above' option on the ballot paper
    448. birtieclaret No. Not voting (for whatever (good) reason) is always regarded as apathy by politicians.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 453.

    Lack of votes range from people who did not agree with the idea to not being informed. I do blame on no proper media coverage from start to finish on what a PCC is and would have control of this should have been repeatedly brought up in the news and papers with the odd advert in mags/tv with a website address giving more info even a one off council leaflet at start of campaigns. Yet there was none

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 452.

    I would still like to know what the percentage of spoiled votes was.?
    Is there any site which shows this on a region by region basis.?
    If it the number of spoiled votes were more strongly publicised, the public (& politicians) might realise the strength of feeling against this stupid, unnecessary & unwanted change in how the Police are overseen.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 451.

    I wish politicians stop blaming the low turnout for the pcc elections on it being held at an unusual time of year. The higher turnout for the by elections shows that people will vote, irrespective of the weather and darkness.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 450.

    In all my long years on this planet it has always been the responsability of the elected Government to keep law and order. Maybe this vote came about because we do not have a Government that was elected by the people, and as usual this bunch are totally clueless so they left the decision to the voters.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 449.

    The low turnout was a deliberate strategy. By refusing to send a mailshot explaining the function and roles of the office, and by denying candidates such a vote shot - cameron sought to suppress voting - as a ploy. he knew that differential turnout- only a few middle-class obsessives would bother would ensure an over-representation of Tories in these positions. Desperate and cynical manipulation.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 448.

    Cameron's defence of the low turnout is great because the next time a Union vote is low he has no credibility to question it.The elections were a joke,the public, who aren't stupid, knew they were a joke and they voted with there feet.Well done voters.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 447.

    Democracy in this country is an illusion.
    You have the right to vote, but only if it is a yes vote

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 446.

    Those who didn't vote because they "don't want policing politicised" are well-intentioned but ill-informed. The Police Authorities were thoroughly politicised - manned by serving and superannuated local politicians, completely anonymous and completely unaccountable. PCCs provide an opportunity to take the politics out of policing and I'm pleased that, in my area, an independent was elected.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 445.

    I am sick and tired of MPs and various commentators and pundits passing off their 'opinions' as fact re the low turnout. 85%+ of us didn't bother to vote or spoiled our vote, and unless a large number of us are asked to explain why we will never know. However, there is a lot of evidence from blogs and comments sections of newspapers and journals that the reason was that most did not want PCCs.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 444.

    The comments made by various commentators/Politicians confirms the intent to politically influence the Police services. Hence the reason why many people did not vote. The electorate didn't agree.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 443.

    Say what you like about 13 years of Labour but I would rather have Gordon Brown back instead of this hopeless bunch in office now and especially Cameron - he makes me cringe everytime he opens his mouth.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 442.

    Every one of the 41 PPCs is in their job by default and not by democratic will. None of the candidates made much, in some cases any, effort to engage with the electorate. They're there because the government rammed through legislation to hold elections, once held someone had to be elected -- even if only 5% of eligible voters gave them a nod.

    How can they possibly represent community views?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 441.

    I'm having difficulty putting my finger on what it is my elected MP or county Councillor is for. Wasn't it their job to hold the police in my area to account ?? I've now got some amateur 'voted' in by 5% of the populous calling the shots (on behalf of this despised shower at Westminster) and we're stuck with him for 4 yrs !!!!!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 440.

    I suspect the new system will become as opaque as it is in London under King Boris. My refusal to vote was not indifference: it was a positive statement to the Govt to register my disgust with their determination to introduce US-style administrative elections in Britain.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 439.

    The debate never seems to go beyond contrived stats ‘We gave you more police’ or ‘We made you feel safer than the other guy’. Either that or you get the shoulder shrugging about social deprivation. Heaven forbid they might compete to persuade us who would best preside over a strategy to deliver world-class intelligence led policing. That requires mature focus and debate in Westminster.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 438.

    If the Local Police Authorities were invisible, then make them visible, don't throw them and their experience away to make a new system which will become equally invisible in a few months anyway. Also, replacing the range of competence and experience of 17 people (half of whom were elected councillors) by one person alone is troubling.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 437.

    Funny how politicians of all parties are keen to listen and agree with the voters until they are actually returned. Then they mysteriously go deaf and ignore public concerns. The PCC idea is a costly farce but not remotely surprising. Will the Govt have the guts to now scrap the idea? Nope, they just scrabble around for insulting reasons why the public got it wrong and will love it all in the end.

 

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