Lessons from the PCC election – The electorate just do not trust politicians to do the right thing

November 22, 2012 2:04 pm

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The biggest talking point about the Police and Crime Commissioner elections is the pitiful turnout. The universal reason for this is put down to apathy but from my experience it is the opposite, it is because of:

  • Anger at the feeling that PCC’s were being imposed without consultation
  • Anger that there was no mailshot
  • Anger at politicians

The disconnect between the parties and the electorate grows as the anger grows, but still we just don’t seem to have learnt the lessons of the expenses debacle. Now the first two things we can honestly direct at the coalition, the third thing we have to put our hands up to as well.

Most MPs (on both sides) were claiming legitimately, there was no technical wrongdoing but it was perceived as such and an abuse of those who had voted those MPs into their very prestigious positions. The letter of the law was rigidly, in most cases, stuck to, the spirit of the law however trailed distantly out of view. The constant ‘revelations’ of what is seen as abuse of the expenses gravy train just turns people off from what they see as selfish, greedy party politicians and we have to put a stop to this, now.

As a consequence of this manipulation – albeit legally – of expenses, the electorate just do not trust us to do the right thing and our levels of probity are questioned. People want to know ‘what’s in it for you?’ They just do not trust politicians to do things for the greater good but only for political or financial gain. Independents were seen as more reliable, more honest, although effectively buying their positions (some even being in receipt of good pensions from the police areas that they now have to oversee!). This is all going back to the days when only the wealthy could aspire to elected office, yet because they did not carry the stigma of party politics they were seen as more reliable.

I have been shot down in the past for highlighting the disconnect between Labour and our voters, saying that the electorate (and in particular our voters) are sick and tired of politicians. I was told that politics has done an awful lot of good, that it was politics that gave us the NHS and even the police.  All that good though is forgotten in the murky waters of the electorate’s disconnection and now some feel that politicians have let the NHS down so badly that there is a party to protect the NHS from party politicians.

To reengage the electorate we have to have something different – something more trustworthy – to offer. Our levels of probity must be ‘triple A rated’

We must not only be squeaky clean but be seen to be squeaky clean as well.

We must set our own rules, tougher and more transparent than those of parliament. We can lead the way and show the people of Great Britain that we are different, that we have had a good spring clean and that there will no tolerance of manipulation of expenses, but most importantly it will be seen to be absolutely clear.

We must be rooted in community as we were when we grew into a movement of the people, where we can become known and trusted by those who vote for us. The electorate will understand what drives us and what makes us want to serve our communities. There are really no such things as ‘safe seats’ anymore. Bradford West showed us that. We cannot take our electorate for granted we have to show them we are on their side.

Is this something that affected the PCC elections in particular? No, but it highlights what is going on with the electorate. Levels of turnout fall, or in this case plummet, democracy is in the hands of fewer people and we continue to pat ourselves on the back for doing what we have always done and not learning what we must now do. We have to have something fresh, dynamic and most of all trustworthy to offer the people of this country.

We must regain our voters trust, and we need to do it before the next election otherwise it wont be long before the turnout for the PCC elections becomes that of a general election. And that would be a sad day indeed.

Harriet Yeo is chair of Labour’s NEC and stood as PCC candidate for Kent

  • Jeremy_Preece

    Harriet. On the whole this article hits the nail on the head in terms of the decline in the number of people voting. I am really encuraged to to see that there are people within the Labour Party bubble who are seriously looking outwards, look out at the way that we are viewed by the electorate and realising that it actaully the electorate that matters, since they are the people who will select the next government.
    However I would like to just add three of points which I think are very important.

    1. Our posiiton in the PCC elections was a rather confused one as far as the voters were concerned. While posting our election material on the day itself, I was confronted by a rather angry man who started yelling at me about how angry he was about the whole waste of money that the PCC project is and how it has diverted money away from front-line officers. Of course we absolutely agree with him – it could have been a Labour Party member talking. However what he ranted at me about was that Labour is all part of “them” – them being “the government and you bloody politics lot”. The thrust of his argument/rant was that as we were standing in this election, and we were taking part in this wasteful exercise and that we are also part of trying to politicise the police.

    After a few minutes of listening and trying to explain our position I wished him well and just reminded him that Labour are standing to protect the police from exactly this sort of thing and that we had to decided to stand rather than hand it over to the Tories on a plate.

    In the case of the PCC elections, I have to ask whether this man was right or wrong. Here we are spending our energy on an election that no one wanted, and Labour was against. In the long term I had often wondered whether we would have sent out a much clearer signal if we had simply said that we were against the PCC project and that the inevitable low turnout would vindicate our position. We should have refuse to play their game. As it is we rather muddled ourselves into a role in something that we oppose. Successful politics happens when we communicate clearly with the electorate.

    2. My second point is that a lot of the general public think that it does not make any real difference to their lot whichever party is in power. I put this down to two things, a) There has been an amount of political cross-dressing with everyone claiming to occupy the middle ground and giving off a sense of making the electorate wonder about the differences between the parties and therefore the point of supporting one party as opposed to another. It might inspire more people to vote if all of the parties set out their policies clearly so that the average person can see where the parties agree and where the real differences are.

    b) The other reason for wondering about the point of voting is that the current system shows that so many of the seats are “safe” for one or other party, and that even the marginal ones – which are the only important ones in terms of being game changers, depend on a small number of floating voters voting either of two ways on a ballot of maybe four or more parties.

    3. Finally there is the issue of trust. The expense row did nothing to help, although in many ways there was also a media hype. I really beleive that every organisation I have ever worked for has had a very clear expenses policy and that everyone at the end of each month filled in their paperwork asking the question “what are we allowed to claim for” I am sure that the members of the public beying for the blood of politicians also do the same. The fact that someone can claim for acessorising their duck pond etc. is outragious. Of course the system should never have allowed it. However once this sort of thing has occured, where do you draw the line when no rules have been broken. More to the point however was the system allowed to fall into such a lamentable state?

    I believe that your idea about the Labour Party publishing its own standards that are transparent, is a good idea. It should be also stated that we are applying these standards as of day one of them being announced. We need to close off the avenue of retrospective blaming for actions before that date. Only then can we draw a line under it.

    However the trust issue is not only a matter of expenses, the electorate also feel that anyone in politics is there to support vested interests, and not the general public good. That is a much harder one to crack.
    Oh – and the LibDems. That a party could U-turn on so many policies within two weeks of an election, and worse the idea that the next election could be so close a call that the same (even if diminished) mob could join another coalition with whichever party suits the maths. Then the Tories have well exceeded their own mandate in terms of their U-turn and broken promisses.
    Not a very bright picture all in all. But if we are to get anywhere we must accept the situation and work from there.

  • http://twitter.com/bencobley Ben Cobley

    I agree with the basic argument of this piece, but it was a bit of a long way round to get to it. It was meant to be about lessons from the PCC elections, but went on about expenses (an old and exhaustively covered topic) for a while before coming back to general, non-confrontational talk about how Labour is basically not doing very well and should do some things differently.

    For what it’s worth I think we should be starting at the beginning, with values – something a lot of Labour people waffle away about without really knowing what they are talking about. For me they are primarily about how we behave, day upon day. They are not something to hide behind, like a cloak of moral superiority, but about setting an example. I wrote about this in October – see below.

    http://labourlist.org/2012/10/lets-talk-about-values/

  • http://twitter.com/bencobley Ben Cobley

    I agree with the basic argument of this piece, but it was a bit of a long way round to get to it. It was meant to be about lessons from the PCC elections, but went on about expenses (an old and exhaustively covered topic) for a while before coming back to general, non-confrontational talk about how Labour is basically not doing very well and should do some things differently.

    For what it’s worth I think we should be starting at the beginning, with values – something a lot of Labour people waffle away about without really knowing what they are talking about. For me they are primarily about how we behave, day upon day. They are not something to hide behind, like a cloak of moral superiority, but about setting an example. I wrote about this in October – see below.

    http://labourlist.org/2012/10/lets-talk-about-values/

  • http://twitter.com/christof_ff christof_ff

    Fantastic article, hits the nail squarely on the head.

  • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

    “there is a party to protect the NHS from party politicians.”

    No need to muddy the waters – it’s not as wide-ranging nor as undiscriminating as that. Not all politicians want to privatise the NHS.

    Though, as we know, those who do want to privatise the NHS, including those within the Labour Party such as Labour’s current shadow-Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham*, have never openly presented the privatisation option to the electorate.

    * The first step toward integrating the NHS within a global healthcare market was taken by Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, Lord Darzi and Andy Burnham on March 26th 2010, when, together, they formally launched NHS Global at London’s Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre:

    http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/darzi-to-export-nhs-ideas-abroad/11028708.article#.UK5V2-Rg-So

    • aracataca

      This is about NHS Global and not about the domestic NHS so your accusation regarding Andy Burnham is not wholly accurate is it Dave? Of course you do have some form in this respect since you described Ferguson, the new Mayor of Bristol, as having ‘ a solid, long-term track record of successful regeneration and cultural projects*. He also has founded his own anti-politics party, the Bristol 1st party’.

      Regrettably you omitted to say that 6 months ago he was a paid up member of the Fib Dems and an enthusiastic supporter of the coalition government. Is this what you were referring to by ‘a solid, long-term track record of successful regeneration?’

      Of course any suggestion that you distort facts to fit your own particular narrative is, and must remain, pure speculation

      • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

        The privatisation of the NHS was regarded as being desirable by the last Labour government and is being extended by the current government.

        Moorfields Eye Hospital (NHS) of London opened a Dubai branch in 2007*
        This can be seen as an NHS Global precursor/experiment. Of course, if an ‘NHS’ for-profit hospital in Dubai is deemed beneficial then what objection can there be to quietly extending the surrender to the dictates of the market and opening facilities in other locations, including the U.K.? If profits derived from wealthy individuals and contracts with health insurance corporations help, then surely, more profit would help even more?

        As Lansley told FactCheck: “Labour had a good idea… We just took it forward.” **

        Just remember, as the profit motive erodes ethical standards of conduct within the health service and more and more “top-performing” NHS specialists are tending to the needs of the wealthy elite in boutique, for-profit, ‘NHS’ hospItals they won’t be tending to the needs of you, your family or your friends.
        .
        *http://www.zawya.com/story/Moorfields_Eye_Hospital_Dubai_treats_first_patients-ZAWYA20070708104543/

        ** http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-is-labour-right-about-the-commercialisation-of-the-nhs/11219

        • aracataca

          Sorry Dave I think it is grossly unfair for you to suggest that Andy Burnham favours privatisation of the NHS. I think you know this not to be the case. You will of course also note that every single Labour MP voted against the recent Health and Social Care Bill in Parliament and to rely on Andrew Llansley as a source to support your position perhaps indicates the poverty of your argument IMHO. I don’t know anyone within the party who favours wholesale privatisation of the NHS and clearly NHS Global is a very different entity to the NHS that runs the UK health service so superbly. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that I completely support the final part of your post here as I am vehemently opposed to the introduction of the profit motive into the NHS.

        • aracataca

          Sorry Dave I think it is grossly unfair for you to suggest that Andy Burnham favours privatisation of the NHS. I think you know this not to be the case. You will of course also note that every single Labour MP voted against the recent Health and Social Care Bill in Parliament and to rely on Andrew Llansley as a source to support your position perhaps indicates the poverty of your argument IMHO. I don’t know anyone within the party who favours wholesale privatisation of the NHS and clearly NHS Global is a very different entity to the NHS that runs the UK health service so superbly. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that I completely support the final part of your post here as I am vehemently opposed to the introduction of the profit motive into the NHS.

        • aracataca

          Sorry Dave I think it is grossly unfair for you to suggest that Andy Burnham favours privatisation of the NHS. I think you know this not to be the case. You will of course also note that every single Labour MP voted against the recent Health and Social Care Bill in Parliament and to rely on Andrew Llansley as a source to support your position perhaps indicates the poverty of your argument IMHO. I don’t know anyone within the party who favours wholesale privatisation of the NHS and clearly NHS Global is a very different entity to the NHS that runs the UK health service so superbly. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that I completely support the final part of your post here as I am vehemently opposed to the introduction of the profit motive into the NHS.

          • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

            aracataca,

            I’d recommend reading ‘NHS plc: The Privatisation of Our Health Care’* by Prof. Allyson Pollock (2004) and ‘The Plot Against the NHS’* by Profs. Colin Leys and Stewart Player (2011). Both books are thoroughly researched.

            If you don’t want to read the books at least spend a few minutes reading the reviews/blurb on amazon and/or elsewhere.

            * http://www.amazon.co.uk/NHS-Plc-Privatisation-Health-Care/dp/1844675394/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353616702&sr=1-1

            ** http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Plot-Against-Stewart-Player/dp/0850366798/ref=pd_sim_b_1

          • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

            No surprise on finding support offered to Andrew Lansley by Julian Le Grand (Blair’s former health adviser); Le Grand described Lansley’s plans as “a logical, sensible extension of those put in place by Tony Blair” (Financial Times, 29th October, 2010).

            The quotation is provided on page 146 of Profs Leys and Player’s excellent book ‘The Plot Against the NHS’. Read it and weep.

          • aracataca

            In common with Julian Le Grand you use Lansley as a source to support your position? Interesting.

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          I won’t try to argue about your final paragraph, but if it happens (which I do doubt, at least as you offer the possibility), it will be through individual desire / personal greed, and not as an active element of policy.

          Firstly, the profit motive for the NHS as an organisation is completely contained – if it exists – to the departments of management and budget, and not within clinical departments (I have lots of arguments about cost control with the budget people). Secondly, we are all contracted to local areas, so do not have the freedom or the management compulsion to be sent out to Dubai or somewhere else to earn lots of money. Thirdly, and you may feel some doubt but I assure you, those practicing medicine within the NHS tend to believe in the ethos rather strongly. I do not include GPs among that calculus – they are a rule unto themselves. (Incidentally, why do people assume the NHS is not already greatly privatised, with a significant proportion of the budget for the last 60 years being paid directly to privately owned GP practices?)

          So any individuals who may choose to volunteer to go abroad for this NHS Global do so as a positive personal act – perhaps they do want to increase their salary, and so contribute to the effect you fear. But if they do so, they do so as individuals and not from compulsion, and I suspect there will be few who do.

          (And to look at it in another way which may resonate with old Labour: if a consultant wishes to spend 2 years in Dubai with NHS Global, to force him or her not to do so would be a “restraint of trade”, would it not?)

          • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

            “those practicing medicine within the NHS tend to believe in the ethos rather strongly.”

            I have no doubt about this and if my comment suggests otherwise I wasn’t as clear as I should have been.

            But different scenarios produce different effects. I have known people who worked in industries privatised by Thatcher – prior to privatisation they were wholly committed to a public service ethos but, after privatisation their commitment couldn’t survive – they had unwillingly become players in a marketised game with rules devised according free-market principles, where profit is king.

            The NHS ethos will only survive as long as the NHS survives.

  • civilwords

    Why has it taken you so long to wake up to the fact that we the public dont trust politicians.Its certainly nothing new but has grown over the past two decades and not surprising that it dates from Margeret Thatcher days and accelerated with Tony Blair and without total reform of Parliament and the introduction of true democracy.

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