• The cynical police commissioner elections

    14th November 2012 | News | Claire
  • As a district councillor who assiduously votes in every election and firmly upholds my democratic right to do so, this is a new and uneasy position for me.

    But these are no ordinary elections.

    Tomorrow, 10 candidates (and hundreds more across the country) all vying to be the new police commissioner of Devon and Cornwall Police, might be visiting as many polling stations as possible, perhaps in a last ditch attempt to connect with voters.  Most of whom, will not have the foggiest idea who they are or what they stand for.

    It will be the first time that the UK’s police forces could be governed by someone who takes his or her orders from an increasingly centralised and uncompromising political party.

    One conservative, six independents (one of them a prominent North Devon liberal democrat), one liberal democrat, one labour, and one UK independence party, have put their hats in the ring, for the top police job, which will net a salary of more than £80,000 a year.

    Many people have not received polling cards – but do not need them in order to vote, but more importantly, very many people have not received any literature from any of the candidates.

    The purpose of writing this post is not to analyse the candidates or help you make up your mind who to vote for – or even whether to vote.  Only you can decide that.

    I am writing this post because I believe that the police commissioner elections are a scandalous waste of money and will ‘fix’ a system that was never broken in the first place.

    The conservatives made it clear that they would go ahead with the police commissioner model a few weeks after going into coalition with the liberal democrats.  Although libdem leader, Nick Clegg has accepted the idea as part of the coalition agreement, he has made it clear that it is not party policy.

    The police commissioners will replace the current system of 17-member police authorities, made up of councillors and independent members, one of whom must be a magistrate, which the conservatives felt were “invisible” to the public.

    According to the Guardian link here – http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/nov/13/police-crime-commissioner-elections-explained , under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, the elected commissioner will be responsible for holding the force to account, hiring and firing the chief constable, setting out local policing priorities, and for multi-million-pound police budgets.

    In turn, police and crime panels – made up of representatives from each local authority in a police force area – will hold the elected police commissioner to account.

    But these panels will have limited powers of scrutiny, prompting Labour to pledge transparency amid fears the setup could allow commissioners to strike secret deals on police privatisation.

    Policing budgets are subject to swingeing cuts with Devon and Cornwall Police alone being forced to get rid of 700 officers and must save a whopping £51m by 2015.

    The police commissioner elections across the country are costing the tax-payer an unbelievable £75m. 

    A member of the existing Devon and Cornwall Police Authority, Lynda Price, presented the authority’s view on the police commissioner elections some months ago, to Ottery St Mary Town Council.

    She described the role as an “Americanised model – a gun-toting sheriff.”

    She added:  “I don’t believe that this is right for our country.

    But who is going to vote in an election where hardly anyone knows that they are happening, who the candidates are or what they stand for?

    According to the Telegraph – link HERE http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/9669373/Record-low-turnout-predicted-in-police-commissioner-elections.html the turnout could be the lowest in British electoral history.

    If this prediction comes to fruition, how can this process possibly result in a democratically elected chief of police?

    Talking with local people I am picking up some strong hostility to the elections.

    Last week a local resident asked me if it was permissible to go along to a polling station tomorrow, registering to vote, without actually voting. 

    Many other residents have expressed deep concern at the cost of the elections and the need for them.

    And the police aren’t keen either.  The Guardian states, link HERE, that last month Sir Ian Blair, the former Metropolitan police chief urged voters to boycott the elections because, he said, the role as currently designed was ill-conceived and its scope too vast. Link below:

    The government has denied candidates the normal free delivery of literature via Royal Mail, which in a parliamentary election applies to all candidates.

    There are a potential 1.5m voters across Devon and Cornwall.  It is equivalent to around 10-15 parliamentary elections. 

    It is simply not humanly possible to get around that many people to deliver literature and certainly not door knock!

    So how can voters possibly make an informed choice?

    This election process has implicitly given political party candidates, who have long-established networks of grass-roots leafleter-campaigners, a massive in-built advantage.

    And what government bright spark decided to hold the elections on a November Thursday when there are no other elections to attract people to the polls?

    If the government objective was to achieve the lowest possible turnout, which could work in favour of the political candidates, they could not have done better.

    The question for me is whether voting legitimises a profligate, shambolic, unjustified exercise, which residents will pay for dearly, and in more ways than one.