It is time for Labour to become the new champions of Police and Crime Commissioners

10th November, 2015 3:52 pm

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As we approach the three-year anniversary of the election of the first Police and Crime Commissioners, it is a good time to judge whether they have been a successful innovation and what they have achieved.

To my mind, placing policing under directly accountable Commissioners was one of the few good ideas of the Coalition Government. In principle and in practice they have enhanced democracy and accountability for a key public service. It was right that Labour stood candidates in 2012, and it is right we will do so again next May.

The Conservatives opposed the creation of the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament in 1997 but once established they made the strategic decision to embrace devolution and the new institutions. The time has come for Labour to accept the Police and Crime Commissioners are here to stay and to make them work because, quite bluntly, policing has become political.

This may sound like a provocative statement but it is right that the resourcing, direction and planning of policing has a political and democratic mandate. Such democracy offers opportunities for Labour to use the Police and Crime Commissioners as champions for our values and our priorities, especially in a time when police budgets are being slashed.

Three years ago in North Wales, Labour lost out to a purported independent candidate. The priorities set by that Commissioner have included a rural crime plan which has prioritised the prosecution of apple scrumping alongside a further enhanced focus on traffic policing. Now I’m not saying that stealing apples should be decriminalised – and I’m certainly not saying traffic shouldn’t be policed – but these shouldn’t, in my view, be the priorities of a Labour Commissioner. Our approach should prioritise tackling crimes that are the most harmful and dangerous and the cause of most concern in our communities.

The Labour Welsh Government has pioneered breakthrough legislation on Domestic Violence, yet detection and prosecution rates for this criminal abuse remain pitifully low. Just last week statistics showed that North Wales has the highest rate of child rape per head of any police force in the UK.

Modern policing requires new levels of expertise. Criminals operating all over the world are now able to target British citizens every day of every week. The fight against cyber crime is complex but as the recent TalkTalk attack showed – victims are customers, not just corporations – the challenges are local, as well as global.

Labour Commissioners can and should embody our values and make a real difference to people’s lives. We need people elected in party colours who will tackle these big challenges, not put them in the “too difficult” box or the pending tray. We have a proud record on crime reduction from our time in government, and we need to build on that by setting out democratically accountable programmes for every police force which embody Labour values and Labour principles.

Where those Commissioners aren’t Labour, we need to be scrutinising, challenging and speaking up against those who are too hands off or have the wrong priorities. This isn’t just a campaign to be built up at election times, it should be a four year pursuit.

Look at policing numbers, for example. Front line policing needs to be protected. That is where Labour should position itself – vocally and practically – and I’m pleased that new Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham is giving the issue priority and leading Labour’s defence. This is what really matters to people, and that’s where Labour needs to be. We can’t ignore the decline in policing because we have a million other priorities. The public will only trust Labour to govern again, if we speak with them and for them on issues like police numbers.

Here in Wales we have an Assembly election the same day as the Police and Crime Commissioner elections next May. These elections, along with Scottish and London are Labour’s first big electoral test of this Parliament. But we need to ensure that the Police and Crime Commissioner elections are fought with equal vigour, there needs to be a Team Labour approach to make sure Labour voters are motivated to vote for Labour candidates in all the elections happening that day.

My call to Labour is simply this: we need to pursue the election of our Police and Crime Commissioner candidates with as much political purpose and dedication as any other election. By doing that we can make sure that more Labour Commissioners are elected than ever before, showing Labour in action, making our communities safer. It is time for Labour to become the new champions of Police and Crime Commissioners.

David Taylor is a non-executive director of Westgate Cyber Security and former special adviser to Peter Hain.

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