Coffee House

In defence of police and crime commissioners

27 October 2012

7:42 PM

27 October 2012

7:42 PM

Have elected police commissioners become the new political piñata? This week, the upcoming elections have taken a battering most notably from former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair. In an interview with Sky News, Blair irresponsibly encouraged the public to boycott the elections, citing his concerns over centralising police power in a single individual — much like his old role. But as we stated in this week’s leader, Blair’s denial may not be a bad thing for those who want to see radical change in the policing:

‘Ian Blair perfectly embodies what has gone wrong with policing in England. He is marinated in political correctness…now retired and ennobled, he sees these new commissioners as a threat to what policing has become.

‘The idea of giving us the chance to elect police commissioners is a radical agenda that reflects well on its author, Nick Herbert, the former Home Office minister. Anyone who believes in better policing should want to support it. Lord Blair would have us believe that every abstention is, in fact, a vote for him. David Cameron ought to thank his views on policing. There can be no greater spur to action.’

Rowenna Davis managed to capture Blair’s cynicism when she wrote that the elections ‘offer little more than an expensive way of leaving us all more disillusioned’. Davis highlighted many of the (legitimate) issues surrounding the first bout of elections but failed to spot the great potential offered by elected police officials.

Chiefly, PCCs will allow Bobbies to focus on local policing and adapt their strategies and methods to suit their patch. By passing down power to localised areas — where local concerns matter the most — elected commissioners will have the opportunity to build stronger links with residents and be more adept to tackle specific issues. If the public is dissatisfied with policing in their area, the elections offer the perfect way to instigate change. As the ex-policing minister Herbert wrote in the Telegraph, the government has introduced choice to many other public services — with education and the NHS being the most notable examples — so why should the police be exempt? It remains one the the country’s last great unreformed public services.


Secondly, it provides an opportunity to restore confidence in the police. The recent exposure of the Hillsborough coverup has done much to reduce the public’s estimation of the police, with a YouGov poll from September suggesting that two thirds of the public have little confidence in central government to maintain an effective police force. A more accessible force that has visible accountability will help to build bridges.

The public is not the only group which need to rebuild their relationship with the police. Following the Andrew Mitchell affair, relations between politicians and the police are at a significant low, highlighted by the enthusiasm of the Police Federation over the Chief Whip’s resignation. In the nick of time though, cross-party support from Westminster is beginning to rally behind these elections.

Thirdly, as Fraser wrote recently, there are some ‘jewels among the dirt’ of the candidates running for PCC positions. Strong and dedicated individuals who wish to serve their community now have a platform to do so, in a way that is genuinely helpful to their communities unlike the frequently turgid environments of local government.

As James noted in his column, elected police commissioners also provide an opportunity for Tories to beef up their presence in urban Britain. Many members of the public disregard the Conservatives at elections over historic prejudices, but acknowledge their tough stance on crime. These elections could be a helpful gateway for boosting Tory prominence before the next election.

Many of the problems with these elections can be attributed to poor support from some corners of the government as well as the nation’s general apathy towards politics. Neither of the factors should make them an unmitigated failure. Of course, one should not totally naïve about the elections. The turnout is unlikely to be sky high — with some ministers predicting as low as 15 per cent — and some of the candidates standing could be described as less than exemplary.

Despite its long-standing opposition to the policy, while enthusiastically standing candidates and launching their campaign, Labour will no doubt dismiss the policy a failure. But handing down power in the right way, as PCCs are an example of, is a core part of David Cameron’s manifesto for government. Given time, elected police commissioners could still be a success for the government.

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Show comments
  • David Lindsay

    Thirty years ago, the abolition of the House of Lords and the redefinition of legal marriage to include same-sex couples were both peculiar to the “Loony Left”. The first was most associated with Tony Benn, while the second was most associated with Ken Livingstone.

    Both are now the policy of the successor to the SDP. Both are now the policy of the Conservative Party. The only party that remains less than convinced is Benn’s and
    Livingstone’s own. The third leg of the stool, bringing the IRA into the government of Northern Ireland, was accepted in principle by all three parties all the way back when John Major was Prime Minister.

    Out of the same stable comes the attempt to subject the police to political control. That is the otherwise wholly mysterious origin of Police and Crime Commissioners. Labour should promise to abolish them. The turnout at the forthcoming elections will more than justify such a commitment.

  • Frank Sutton

    “the elections offer the perfect way to instigate change…”

    How do you instigate change with an election? Unless you have a voice in selecting candidates, you’re stuck with whatever choices are offered on the ballot paper – one from each of the three “main” parties where I live.

  • Daniel Maris

    Window dressing without any goods on sale inside. These “independent” commissioners are not going to have much power in terms of policy (there were will a rule book 100 pages long for every decision) but they will have the capacity to promote corruption (“can you go easy on Jack Whatsit, he’s a good friend of mine/Trade Union buddy/member of the same Mosque/big contributor to the Charity I run.”).

    Democratic accountability and control is important, but it would be much better if that were done through committees.

  • james102

    I thought Ian Blair’s objection to elected police commissioners on the grounds it would “ politicize” the force amusing, obviously he is not one of those humourless lefties.

    Being leftwing is not the same as being non-political but our political class seem to be under the impression it is.

    We can identify left wing police chiefs but can you think of a right wing one?

    • RatherAnnoyedPleb

      I served under Blair. I don’t know him personally and wouldn’t want to insult him, but he was a poor Commissioner and pandered to New Labour in a way that mirrors the worst excesses of what the PCC project will lumber us with. To become an Acpo ranking officer you go through a triage system utterly dominated by the (very liberal) Home Office. So central government chooses the Chief Officer cadre that PCCs will select their Chief Constables from. This seem inconsistent with real localism that the likes of Hannan bang on about (albeit from Brussels on an MEPs salary and pension), in that you can only have a CC the Home Office approves of.

      • james102

        Yes I agree, which is why I don’t think the argument that these proposals “politicise” the police makes sense: the police are already politicised.

        The whole education, promotion and selection process is designed to ensure only someone with political views that conform to the fashionable ones, held in the public sector ,will get senior appointments. It is the same throughout the public sector but the criminal justice system has obviously been subject to the most attention.

        Like the appointment of judges and Quangocrats, once it is done electing one political party or another makes very little difference.

        • RatherAnnoyedPleb

          Yes, but it creates a tautology: If a PCC doesn’t like his chief, and fires him, he can only select another spawned from the same clutch of eggs.

  • RatherAnnoyedPleb

    It’s going to be a disaster, an absolute disaster. I’m sure it looked like a great idea when Blair Gibbs was sitting in his office. But reading the candidate spiel it seems about a quarter of them think *they* are going to be the Chief Constable. As they say on the internet, LOL. Politicized policing like the USA at last, it’s going to be comedy gold.

    • james102

      The criminal justice system in the UK already is comedy. A “Dangerous sex offender” is on the loose from an OPEN prison. We can only deport foreign criminals who agree to be deported. The police taser an elderly blind man because he/she thought his white stick was a sword—what range do tasers have? Should he/she be the one with the white stick?

    • Mirtha Tidville

      I couldnt agree more with you RAP…just glad I got out when I did

  • TomTom

    Wow, choice of existing Labour quangocrat, LibDem Councillor or Conservative quangocrat, or an “Independent” former policeman with 30 year experience………don’t think I want to vote in a stitch-up

    • David Lindsay

      The Conservative candidate here in Durham is 21. Yes, you read aright. Twenty-one years old. Not that he was ever going to win, and the Labour candidate, who is bound to, is a retired Assistant Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary. But even so.

      Oh, and in another sign of the times, there is no Lib Dem. Only two and a half years ago, the Lib Dems had seriously expected to win the Durham City parliamentary seat, having run the City Council until the introduction of unitary local government. How the world turns.

  • Jimmy R

    The very fact that independent candidates get no financial help whilst the Political Commissars have the financial backing of their Parties along with their well oiled publicity machinery says everything about what the ultimate intentions are. This is the first step towards the total politicisation of control of the police with either pathetic washed-up political has beens running the show or pushy political wannabes looking for a way onto the political gravy train.

    The main reason for the impartiality of both the police and the courts in Britain is that they have always been separated from direct political control. Keeping the police and the courts completely separate from political control is essential in a free and open society. Having the police under the direct control of any political party, even locally, is the stuff of Stalin and Hitler or, more recently, the likes of Mugabe but, most certainly, not Britain. The whole concept is the stuff of nightmares.
    One thing is certain and that is if changes are needed in the way the police are run then silly political gimmicks ar4e not the answer. What is needed is a studied, politically impartial, assessment of the best way it should be done to provide the best service possible for the protection of the law abiding public.

    • james102

      Can you imagine a police chief being appointed who did not hold fashionable political views?

      Ian Blair’s politics were well known so we already have political appointments.

  • ButcombeMan

    The whole thing will fail with the lowest turnout ever. The Tories never thought this through. Nobody has had the sense to stop it.

    It is a ridiculous opportunity for inept political retreads like Prescott..

    The structure of Policing needs to be got right first, that means a reduction in Constabularies from over 40 in England & Wales to a number around 10/11. Management of that new structure to be by a UK wide Police Commissioners Board,

    This reduction needs to be done because the small forces lack critical mass to do anything very well and their admin tails and overheads are too expensive.

    Massive cost savings to be made. In addition Policing needs other changes, there are too many ranks and detective skills need improving which means many Officers will need to spend longer as detectives. “High Fliers” should not get by, cynically ticking an 18 month “detective box” on the way up.

    Officers above Inspector, retire in their prime, they should serve another ten years.

    There should be recruitment above Constable for a (Senior) Officer grade. Something similar to the military model with a Sandhurst type process and training.

    The current proposals and elections will preserve the current antiquated structure. A useless mess.

    I shall spoil my paper in protest. An ill thought through and expensive scandal.

    I have no time for Ian Blair by the way. Ask him why he was not told the truth about the Stockwell shooting for 24hours or so.

    • HooksLaw

      We do not need ever more bloated constabularies. What possible benefit is there in taking policing even more distant from the ordinary public.
      You are so opinionated that you refuse the opportunities to put your views to candidates or indeed stand as a candidate yourself.

      There is a world out there beyond the end of your nose.

      • ButcombeMan

        How would larger Constabularies make policing “more distant”. You have a rose tinted atavistic view of small forces. Do you think the Chief Constable visits small town and village/parish councils?

        The key figure in local police/community relations is the Divisional Commander . That role would not change under larger Constabularies. You have been listening to the dishonest arguments put by those in policing who want the multiplicity of highly pensioned senior roles that come with too many Constabularies. So sadly have the Tories.

        Bloating is in the eye of the beholder, YOUR status quo bloating, involves too many at high rank,too many expensive Police HQs, too many expensive pensions, too many HR Departments, too many Cief Constables cars, too many Chief Constable’s drivers, too many purchasing Depts, too many heads of CID, too many Heads of Professional Standards Depts and so on, Too many different IT systems, too many fat “back offices”.

        Your “bloating by Constabulary numbers” which is what you argue for, means that the really small “shire” forces struggle to have dedicated fraud, sex crime, serious crime teams, firearms teams, their own helicopters. They struggle to do anything very well, they struggle with major incidents and murders, they struggle with serious crime.

        The regular liaison between forces under the present system-Regional Heads of CID meetings , Regional Coordinating and Tasking comes at very high cost. It is just not effective.

        You have no information on my position on contact with candidates. All you demonstrate is a thorough lack of knowledge.

  • anyfool

    Why do the people give it a try, nothing ever starts perfectly first time, after a couple of disasters people will get the hang of it,

    You can bet people like Prescott will screw up badly then people will have their say and you might end up without rubbish failed politicos and superannuated has beens.

  • David Trant

    You’ll be lucky if you get 15% voting, if an idea looks like sh*t, smells like sh*t, and tastes like sh*t, its shit…whoops forgot the asterix

    • anyfool

      When did you taste it to know what it is like.

    • HooksLaw

      You are really upset at the chance of people actually having a bit of power aren’t you

  • Sarge

    Nearly all the candidates are from the political classes and sit on various policing bodies already. Shuffling a full of jokers will not produce a better hand.

  • Ian Walker

    the biggest problem with the policy (a decent idea at heart) is that the police areas are far too big for a true independent candidate to effectively campaign in. Which means we’re all going to end up with a third rate party drone.
    I’ve been amazed how many of the candidates in Kent are already on the Police Authority, are magistrates and are local councillors, yet they are all pledging great changes. In case you hadn’t noticed, sunshine, you’re part of the problem, not the solution.

    • HooksLaw

      Yes I would agree with that – and to think some people want even bigger more remote policing areas.

  • Mirtha Tidville

    This article is a mixture of fantasy and wishful thinking. It is the creation of more and very expensive quangos.Presided over by politicos, in my area as many others, the favourite to win is the present chairman of the Police Authority (Liebour)..If Herbert had thought this crackpot scheme through he would have kicked it into the long grass or at the very least ensured funds were available for true independent types to have their say and stand a better chance of being elected.

    As it stands none of them will be independent, all in hock to their respective parties and will be doing what they are told by the high command. The turnout will be so low that they will be devoid of any real credibility and will be largely ignored. Another bright idea from Eton!!

    The present Police Authority system has worked well and stood the test of time. When it came to it, the one in West Yorkshire actually forced Norman Bettison to resign, in effect firing him. If it aint broke dont try to fix it Dave.

    • Rebus

      What a ridiculous article. How would you describe the ones that aren’t ‘jewels in th dirt’? i.e. the majority

      Herbert resigned rather than stay and see through his project.

      This tells us all we need to know.

      His protege Blair Gibbs jumped to the London Mayor’s office where his proven record of practical delivery and experience will lead to the inevitable result.

      A future of unrealistic and uninformed promises made by PCC’s who then sack Chief Constables for not reaching them awaits. If anyone wants to know what will happen, then I recommend a few episodes of ‘The Wire.’

    • Dicky14

      They didn’t force Bettison to resign, he was going in March 2013 until one of the Eagle girls used parliamentary priveledge to traduce him. The PA did nothing except accomodate him.

    • TomTom

      Mark Burns-Williamson has been on the WYPA since 1999 and Chairman since 2003 and now wants to be elected so he claims he pushed Bettison and suckers fall for that line

      • Mirtha Tidville

        Suckers who havent seen Bettisons own press release would take that view…Read it Tom Tom before commenting further..

        • TomTom

          I can comment because I have had Bettison imposed on me – and he is the ACPO Anti-Terrorism Head – maybe you should ask Mirtha how he left school at 16 and ended up with taxpayer funded 2 degrees ? Check his background out and maybe you will learn how favoured he was. I still won’t vote for this Stitch Up List of Soviet Democracy

  • Heartless etc.,

    Absolutely worthless and corrupt! Why?

    (a) The H2B appears to be mixed up with it.

    (b) The DPM from the last benighted ‘Government’ appears to be not only interested, but in with a chance.

    Nothing more need be known.

  • Stiffit

    Opinion in my local evenly divided between the ‘don’t votes’ and ‘spoil paper’ factions. Absolutely no interest anywhere in voting for a superannuated politician or a wannabe quangocrat on the make.

    • HooksLaw

      So you are given power only to spit on it? Power not only to vote for a candidate this time but to vote out a candidate in the future.

      • Colin

        Ha ha ha, they fucking done you up son didn’t they? You actually believe that shit you fucking write? Power? Ha ha fucking ha, you’re pulling my cock? You really think you have anything like power?
        What kind of cunt goes out and votes for a fucking pig anyway? They are the lowest form of life know to man and the only good cop is a fucking dead cop.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Dear me. Are you a criminal, sir?

        • HooksLaw

          Another brain dead gobshite I see.

          • Mirtha Tidville

            another member of the great unwashed with more form than Red Rum no doubt..

  • Dicky14

    When there are such blatantly sub par Chief Constables like Blair, Bettison, Flannagan etc who all control transparency and run the private company ACPO to exclude all intervention then, even if it means Prescott, I say good luck to them.

  • ken from glos

    I am in my late sixties and for the first time in my life i am going to spoil my ballot paper.This is all a wast of money.

    • IanH

      @ken – well more fool you then. The only people who can seriously believe the idea of having an elected commissioner will not lead to good outcomes for the public are those who have lived off the state tit. To all those of us who really fund the public sector this is a chance for us to expect someone to take the blame and plaudits for doing something which is quite simple, looking after us, our streets and out property. If they don’t then they will make a public fool of themselves.

  • M Davis

    Vote for the Independent candidate, not the Political one.

    • HooksLaw

      Vote for the good candidate.

      • FRANKP1

        Don’t vote! I assume there is a ‘losing deposit’ minimum, as with general election candidates? Busybodies and parasites,k what you’re going to get. If they want to be Police Chiefs, let them go through the mill and earn their bones. Self regarding arbiters who want a wage to sit in judgement on professionals? No way! There are far two many of the existing police chiefs who have taken the ‘accelerated’ route through academia as it is. Politicos with a vested or ideological interest from outside will be another disaster. It’s a gross insult to second guess the existing rank structure. If it is thought that the wrong people are being promoted, then it’s up to the Home Office to improve recruiting and systemic training systems, with political independence at the heart of and minority interest outlawed. Take it from me, this wacky wheeze will increase the politicisation of the police function and the public will get an even worse service. Utter poppycock, the whole idea. Cameron pretending that he’s doing something about law ‘n’ order, rather than throwing away the powers of the police and judiciary to Bruxelles. Two faced bastard.

        • HooksLaw

          You are the gobshite here.

          • IRISHBOY

            Pithy, but hardly an argument.

    • an ex-tory voter

      With you on that one.

      A vote for a party candidate is a vote for continued central control of policing. Let’s have some truly independent individuals who will respond to local wishes and who are not answerable to Cameron, Clegg, or Milliband.

      No doubt they will clash with the Westminster slime. But, if they are independent and democratically elected they have the right and indeed the duty to stand up for the interests of those who elected them and not merely to act as a mouthpiece for a party and it’s leader.

      Nor will they have to consider national politics when deciding on local policing strategy.

    • David Lindsay

      The Independent candidate funded by whom, exactly?