Police & Crime Commissioner elections: connecting with the margin and mainstream

April 4, 2012 3:36 pm

The Bradford West result has got me thinking about policies and campaign strategy and tactics. I suspect I am not alone in thinking lots about all this. But the point of this article is not to rake over the coals again – many others with good on-the-ground knowledge are doing it so very eloquently. This is an article about the future.

As people will know from my past articles, I have been seeking to boost interest and commitment to the forthcoming (near) national election on November 15th this year. On that date, everyone living in England and Wales outside London will have the chance to vote for their local Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). It is going to be a major test for Labour and all the other political parties. We need to win as many of the PCC positions as possible as they will exert huge political power over large dollops of resources. Moreover, these are positions that will have a great deal of public profile.

It will be the PCCs who will decide whether the police service heads in the same direction as our beloved NHS: into a scary future when core (not just back office) functions are outsourced to private profit making organisations. Perhaps we will one day think of ‘Police Costables’ rather than constables. The Tory and LibDem privateers will delight in getting their controlling hands on the police budgets.

But there are other important reasons why these elections will be some of the most important for us in a long while.

Policing and community safety affects everybody. But it does affect some people more. Young people especially, are not only more likely to be victims of crime but are probably also more likely to come into street contact with the police than older people. The PCC election provides us with a significant opportunity to work and campaign with young people on an issue they are likely to have more of a ‘connection’ with.

And there are other groups of people who may be more interested in this election due to their experience of crime, violence, the fear of crime and anti-social behaviour. If we are to have any chance of winning more than the PCC elections which we may ‘expect’ to win (although after Bradford, dare we say that of anywhere?), our campaigns must reach out and listen to a very broad range of people. These might be people not on the electoral roll (and how do we get them on it?) and/or disaffected from politics and the democratic process.

We do have a very good story to tell: we left office with less crime than when the Labour government was elected in 1997. We know about being tough on crime and the causes of crime. But many people are highly suspicious of whether politicians really care about crime and anti-social behaviour. And some, perhaps many too, remain deeply suspicious of the police and the overall criminal justice system. The recent report on preventing riots (After the riots: The final report of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel) has much to say about the relationship between the police and the communities they work for. Among many points it says loudly and clearly:

The key to avoiding future riots is to have communities that work… where the police and the public work together to support the maintenance of law and order

Our narrative on tackling the causes of riots, holding the police to account and having adequate resources to deal with rioting (should it occur) is very strong – far stronger than the Tories resorting to Victorian rhetoric and the need for better parenting (while they slash Sure Start centres).

In summary, the PCC elections give us the challenge and opportunity to listen to and learn from people who may feel very marginalised and excluded. And we will need to have the national and local policies that resonate with all people (not just the mainstream or swing voters or even just the squeezed middle). It will be our job to show that only Labour PCCs will make everyone’s voices heard when holding the Chief Constables to account – especially the voices that are often not heard as much.

  • madasafish

     Compare and Contrast:
     in Britain we have long known a flourishing democracy needsimpartial police,
    safeguards against concentrations and abuses of power, and support for the rule of law”

    Yvette Cooper  11th September 2011

    And:
    . We need to win as many of the PCC positions as possible as they will exert huge political power over large dollops of resources

    The above article.

    Nice to see a consistent and nuanced approach to impartial policing. Not.

    • Brumanuensis

      Remind me Madasafish, which party opposed this threat to the impartiality of the police? Oh, that would be Labour wouldn’t it.

      Do you really think the Tories invented these posts for altruistic reasons? And frankly, as HM Opposition, taking power away from the government is one of our objectives. Did you seriously expect us to sit on our hands and hand over enormous power over local policing to the Tories and Liberal Democrats? I suppose you’ll be suggesting next that we shouldn’t contest council elections, as that involves ‘dollops of power’ too.

      • madasafish

        It’s simple..

        Ms Jowell wants police to be impartial. This writer does not.

        Move along please.

        Nothing to do with the Tories.

        • Dave Postles

          Police and Crime Commissioners will inevitably become as political as the parent system in the USA with their kitchen sink cabinets and political appointments.  That’s the premiss from which it starts.  The idea is an abomination.

        • Brumanuensis

          Dave is correct. The idea is an abomination and is also inherently political. It doesn’t matter who the occupant is, so pretending that what Jon has written is in anyway disreputable is farcical.

        • http://twitter.com/CllrJonSHarvey Cllr Jon Harvey

           “We need to win as many of the PCC positions as possible as they will exert huge political power over large dollops of resources”

          This is simply a statement of fact and written into statute: PCCs will set the budgets of the police. The PCCs will be the main corporate body that will still sign contracts (just like Police Authorities do at the moment) – and these could be the contracts that will privatise the police…

          Of course, as Labour, we want to win as many PCC positions as possible – so that the power that PCCs have (by statute) will be wielded for benefit of the many not the few.

          But all Labour PCCs will be very aware of the need to maintain distance from political influence of operational policing – also written into statute.

          I want policing to remain impartial in how it is dispensed – just as no politican should be telling a Dr to treat that patient and not this one.

          But what should we make of Boris’ Crime Manifesto where it says “And I have encouraged single patrols, adding thousands of
          extra patrols every year”

          - hmmm – is this the Mayor messing around with operational policing I wonder? Note his careful use of the word “encouraged”… (from http://www.scribd.com/doc/87619798/Boris-Johnson-2012-Crime-Manifesto

          And I would argue there is already politics in policing – referencing my piece on Left Foot Forward (apologies for the link LabourList: http://www.leftfootforward.org/2012/03/policing-is-political-already-why-should-police-commissioners-hide-their-allegiance/)

          In sum you have not made a point but merely juxtaposed two unrelated sentences.

          • http://twitter.com/Ian4PCC Ian4PCC

            Hi Jon
            Sadly not only Boris but Ken too has made it clear that he does not respect the operational/strategic divide on policing as his manifesto makes clear. The PCC must not start to define what the detail of his intentions will be. In Sussex one of our (Conservative) candidates is promising to get police officers from behind their desks for more hours each week. Thankfully he is not the strongest candidate but some people might vote for him on the basis that his rhetoric and that of their newspaper of choice resonate

          • http://twitter.com/CllrJonSHarvey Cllr Jon Harvey

            From my understanding of the legislation, Ken talks 97% in his manifesto about resources and priorities, which is what his statutory powers will allow him to do if he becomes Mayor.

            Arguably statements like “I will create a small intelligence-led unit within the Metropolitan Police to identify repeat offenders and the services that can support them.” is something outwith his powers – such a decision is down to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Also I am not quite sure that he could be promising “A police officer in every school that wants one” as this is a question of deployment of actual operational resources.

            I would have rephrased both promises in terms of priorities such “making police presence in schools and tackling repeat victimisation top priorities”

            But I think the the whole divide between operational and strategic priority setting is a fuzzy area…(Details will probably come out in the wash – maybe even in the courts..) but it is a long way from claiming credit for a change in policing practice through “encouragement”

            In Boris’ manifesto he says:

            “Guarantee to continue funding for the new Trident Gangs
            Command for my entire term.”

            “Double the size of the Met’s Status Dogs Unit”

            Can he promise that?

            And… “Give local people a direct say in Community Payback” and “Introduce “Compulsory Sobriety” for drunken offenders.” – are either of these possible without primary legislation?! Where does the Human Rights Act fit into both of these?

            And of course Boris also says “And
            I have sought to cut the amount of police bureaucracy to enable police to spend
            more time on the street than behind a desk”

            So what can we conclude from this…?

            - Resources matter most, and it will up to the London voters and thence the wider country to judge whose promises on resources they can believe.
            - Mayors and PCCs can ‘seek’, but cannot direct the police to create/boost dogs sections or units to tackle certains kinds of crime (unless I have misread the legislation etc)
            - The public will probably be confused as to just what powers the Mayor / PCCs will have, and whether they can believe any pledges or promises made by certain parties (as in “we won’t increase student fees” and “there will be no top reorganisation of the NHS” – yeah I know – tribal again…!)

            All we can hope for is that PCC candidates will learn from these two crime manifestos and make promises that they can keep.

            But more crucially I hope that Labour PCCs & their supporters will get out there to have dialogues with all the public so that they can listen to their concerns – and weave these voices into their manifestos and beyond.

  • http://twitter.com/Ian4PCC Ian4PCC

    So much of Jon’s blog make a great deal of sense as do so many things he writes. What is worrying is that his concluding sentence is so much at odds with the views of a very significant audience. That is the usual readers of Labour List. Jon and I have not met although I hope that we will in time. I do not intend to be offensive, but it shows an amazing sense of arrogance or ignorance or some mix of these to try to suggest that any-one political party can really have the monopoly on representing any community. This is also true of the skills or qualities of any-one person. In terms of the PCC concept which has many weaknesses, if there can be an attenuation of all of the party political blind spots by electing a superbly skilled and capable individual who is unconnected with all political parties or is willing Patten+ like to leave behind his political roots, and if there can be a meaningful relationship created to a PCP which can present the best political minds in the force area, then all communities can have some confidence in the end result. The mark of the individual will need to be that he or she can show evidence of all party support for their candidacy.

    The irony is that the only party unwilling to be seen to publicly to support my candidacy at the present moment is Labour, even though in private I have many Labour supporters.

    Jon if you really believe you final sentence you are not the person who I took you to be. This takes party tribalism to a level that I have not read before.

    • Brumanuensis

      Ian, you seem like a nice man with very good intentions and I’m sure ‘ceteris paribus’ that you’d make a good PCC, but it is naive to expect a Labour Party member not to want a Labour candidate to win an election. Strictly speaking I agree with you that no one Party is likely to have a monopoly on political wisdom, but – understandably – you’re lapsing into what I call the ‘independent’s fallacy’. By this I mean the common assumption that because someone is independent of a political party, they are naturally more honest and fair-minded than a Party candidate. I don’t doubt your own personal probity, which seems unimpeachable, but the reason for Labour members supporting a Labour candidate is we feel more a ‘guarantee’ over what approach they will take to a very sensitive topic – policing.

      I oppose PCC’s because I see them as an erosion of the independence and impartiality of the police, but this applies regardless of whether a party candidate wins or an independent wins. In both cases you’ll be exercising overt political authority over the police. I’m sorry, but in that case most Labour Party members will prefer someone who they feel more affinity with, rather than someone who may have good intentions, but about whom we have no confidence of their priorities.

      I suspect part of the reason why many Labour Party members are supporting you, is that Paul Richards is the Labour candidate in your area and he has something of a mixed reputation among members.

      • Brumanuensis

        “who they feel more affinity with”

        With whom they feel more affinity with. Apologies. I don’t normally correct my grammatical errors, but that was so egregious I felt obliged.

        • Brumanuensis

          Delete the second ‘with’. Goodness I’m on a roll.

      • http://twitter.com/Ian4PCC Ian4PCC

        In fact there is no sense that people don’t support Paul from my conversations. To his credit he and I are the only two people who have corresponded in an open manner we have met and I happily confess I like him. However the supporters I have are people who know me and trust me far more than any party political allegiance could ever engdender. They unlike the Conservatives who are supporting me are unable to say so. That for me is the great sadness. Indeed people whose campaigns I have endorsed in the past are unable to speak up on my behalf now that I am standing for a post that I too feel is not the best, but one that most people who I have spoken to agree needs to be free from any form of party political involvement (that will come from the PCP). I have cross party support because I have spent many years building links with people from all parties and many more people who have no confidence in any of the political parties.

      • AlanGiles

        “but it is naive to expect a Labour Party member not to want a Labour candidate to win an election. ”

        I think that very much depends on the candidate. For example, Brighton: Paul Richards? Labour – or Tory Lite, judging by his outpourings on LL

        • Brumanuensis

          I wouldn’t go that far Alan. I’ve expressed some pretty trenchant views about Paul Richards in the past, but his opinions are recognisably within the Labour tradition, albeit a different one from you or I.

  • http://twitter.com/CllrJonSHarvey Cllr Jon Harvey

    As always, the least a writer like me can hope is to provoke some debate. This at least has happened – and perhaps there will be more.

    Thanks for your comments Ian and I am sorry that your opinion of me may have been dented. As Brumanuensis points out, of course, I will be partisan. I am proud to have been an active member of the Labour Party for well over 25 years – occupying various political positions including branch chair, secretary and I am currently the agent for my constituency & local Labour Town Councillor. I have trapped more fingers in Fort Knox like letter boxes delivering Labour leaflets than I care to remember. I can still taste the excitement of being a teenager bused around Portsmouth North on election night in 1974, knocking up for votes for Frank Judd. Like many I am sure, I was in pieces when we lost the 1992 election against all expectations.

    So I am a loyal and committed party member – and I will help other party members get elected – whether I know them or not. I want there to be as many Labour PCCs elected as possible. Of course I do!

    But this isn’t out some automatic or blind adherence to a party line. It is because I trust Labour people more than others to do the right thing for the people of this country. I trust that Labour people will do more for ~all~ people because our focus is on communities and families, on helping people dream and realise their dreams, on making sure that everyone gets a chance (not just the privileged few), on including everyone – and listening to them. I could go on.

    And so I would ask you to read my last sentence with all this – and the whole article – in mind. Please read it again: “It will be our job to show that only Labour PCCs will make everyone’s
    voices heard when holding the Chief Constables to account – especially
    the voices that are often not heard as much.”

    I didn’t say that only Labour PCCs will be ‘representing’ (your word) all communities. I hope that whoever gets elected will act in the tradition of politics in the country and seek to represent all communities.

    “It will be our job to show” – in other words our campaigns will be successful if people see & believe this to be true…

    “Only Labour PCCs” – that we are best placed from amongst all other candidates

    “will make everyone’s
    voices heard” – that Labour PCCs will have the wit, commitment and wherewithall to ensure that all voices are heard through our knowledge of, connections to and trust in diverse and multitudinous communities

    “when holding the Chief Constables to account” – the job of the PCC

    “especially
    the voices that are often not heard as much.” – if Labour stands for anything, we stand for making the voices of the disaffected, the overlooked, the put to one side, the less than privileged (etc etc) heard – loudly. The Labour Party was born out of people wanting to make their voices heard – because the other parties (Liberal and Conservative) were not listening.

    And of course the Labour Party is not supporting your election in Sussex. How could we? Labour will be putting up a candidate of our own. (And which person this will be has not yet been decided by the way…)

    • john Reid

      Like you Jon I was jublinet in 74 devistated in 1992, But the view that A PCC will ‘hold the Chief Constables to account’ Reminds me Of Boris ousting Ian Blair for Being too P.C and then getting In Paul Stephenson who felt that the Inquiries into the News of the World being above the law when it came to phone hacking was uninportant ,yet Where’s the criticism of Boris for  bieng too close to Stephenson

      • http://twitter.com/CllrJonSHarvey Cllr Jon Harvey

        This model of police governance is full of risks without doubt. It is not the one that the Labour Party wanted – our policy was elected police authorities which would have had far more checks and balances in them. But we are where we are – and now we have to contend these elections and make this new form of governance work as best as possible.

        The question is – who do you trust more to put in place some reliable and robust arrangements to make sure the communities of an area keep the PCC informed of what is going on on her/his patch – so that the PCC can hold the CC to account.

        I know which party I trust more to listen to the many not the just the few….

        The PCC will shine a singular laser onto local policing practice and results – we just have to make sure that the light is collected from all communities (no small task by the way).

  • http://twitter.com/CllrJonSHarvey Cllr Jon Harvey

    Handy checklist of PCC powers published by the Home Office:

    http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/police/police-crime-commissioners/questions/pcc-powers/

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