THE POLICE AND DEMOCRACY DEBATE GATHERS FORCE?
At 8.40 this morning I was invited to take part in a live radio debate on BBC Radio Northampton alongside Mr Michael Ellis, Conservative MP for Northampton North and a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee. This followed an earlier broadcast in which a potential Independent candidate for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner in Northamptonshire stated that he was dissuaded from standing because of the politicization of the election and the position (very similar to my own argument outlined in earlier posts).
I acknowledged the benefits of greater public engagement in the policing debate and agreed that such commissioners could bring the public voice into policing in a much more substantive way than before. Predictably, Michael Ellis was in favour of PCCs but could not understand how independent candidates would be disadvantaged. Political parties, he argued are short of funding and said that it was a fallacy that party machinery would line up behind the political candidates. This, I think, is a rather narrow view. As I pointed out, low turnout rates tend to favour traditional party political voters and as the presenter Stuart pointed out, this may well be the lowest turnout of all time. It is not necessarily a case of the public funding the independents campaign, which appeared to be the response to my point, but rather it is about having a level playing field. Only this week, a letter is being handed into No 10 Downing Street on behalf of independent candidates asking for the government to communicate the background of candidates as well as providing information about the vote. The electoral commission have already criticized the government for disenfranchising at least seven million people who cannot access the online information. This is the only information online.
Congratulations to Blair Gibbs and his colleagues at the Policy Exchange (Crime and Justice) who today launch their online website http://www.policeelections.com. As Blair said (The Times Opinion today), “Don’t let apathy rob you of a say on policing”. I agree with his sentiments that “being a commissioner is not a job for any old local politician”. I had a look at the website and searched for the candidates for the job in my home county of Staffordshire. Although I knew that there was no independent, it was quite ominous to see two candidates from the traditional political parties. However, no profile had been provided by either candidate. Interestingly, Joy Garner, a Labour councillor in Stoke-on-Trent who is standing as the Staffordshire PCC did take an active role in a question and answer session at the briefing held with Ed Milliband on the 19th July. Reported rather cynically by the Telegraph and referring to what she described as “The G4S thing” she began gravely:
“The RoboCop films are an extreme example of where privatisation can go madly wrong. This just seems to be the first step.”
Mind you, as reported in the local Staffordshire Newsletter a couple of weeks ago (War of words erupts between Staffordshire Police and Crime Commissioner candidates), the Labour candidate was also critical of her ‘opponents’ technological idea which is to give patrolling officers an iPad.
Not quite the informed approach that we are looking for? C’mon (as they say in Stoke), lets have the real debate.