Who shall I vote for -- as a Police and Crime Commisioner?
Most of us have forgotten (or never noticed) that we have elections coming up for our "local" police and crime commissioners on November 15. I have never honestly been convinced that the election of a (well paid) P&CC will do much for the democratic deficit in policing policy.
In fact -- problems though there may have been with the old local Police Authorities, now being abolished -- they seemed quite democratic enough for me. The majority of members after all were elected councillors, and the fact that they were a group of people rather than an individual meant that they could easily represent different interest groups within the local community, and different areas within the authority.
Besides, I'm not sure I like the idea of my Chief Constable being sackable by a single elected official (as the info websites seem to imply, but I can't quite believe is true). And I am fairly certain that we shall not be paying any less for the new "men" (and they will mostly be men) at the top. Look, for example, what is happening in Devon and Cornwall, where there has already been a c£50k a year job advertised for a media manager for the lucky new P&CC.
Anyway, my choices now are between a) vote for one of the candidates in Cambridgeshire; b) spoil my ballot paper (on the grounds that women should always vote in some form, to give thanks to those who gave us the vote); or c) just tear it up when it comes through the door.
The local candidates, I have to say, are not a particularly inspiring bunch.
First, there's not a single woman amongst them (as against 7 women out of 16 on our current Police Authority). As for the guys, well . . . . it takes a bit of a websearch to find the information. There is one website called policeelections but only two of the seven candidates in my area has entered info on that and, so far as I can tell, they are the ones further to the right than the Tory candidate. One claims that he is going to purge the force of "political correctness"..."Politically Correct social engineering projects or excessive harassment of motorists as an easy target to enable Chief Constables to claim inflated clear-up rates... I also intend to seek a mandate that every police station should fly the Cross of St George". Honest!
ChoosemyPCC does have something about the whole line-up. And we can see happens if we go a bit more to the centre.
The answer is that we find the policing equivalent of cliché, motherhood and apple pie. Some candidates to be sure are a bit better than others, but all are offering platitudes -- along the lines of local accountability, of cutting crime (why bother to say it? do we think that any of them were for increasing crime...?), of putting victims at the heart of policing, of giving value for money, and so on. I got quite interested for a while in Ansar Ali, but after looking at the pics on his own promotional website (some of which were as remote as snaps of a St Ives fund-raising event in 1999), I quickly lost interest again.
Part of the problem for me was that, out of the 7, all but 1 were from Peterborough --which has quite different policing issues from Cambridge. The odd man out is probably the one I would go for, if pushed; but like so many of these candidates across the country he is an ex-local councillor (we also have a defeated ex-MP on offer) and you can't help thinking that this shouldnt be a job for the "ex". Frankly I would rather the current councillors, as we have on the Police Authority.
I still haven't made up my mind. I don't honestly think I can cast my vote for any of this lot, and certainly wouldn't want them to have hire and fire control over the Chief Constable (for heaven's sake, policing decisions are difficult and don't get any easier if reduced to the sort of slogans we have in their manifestos). If I thought that spoiled ballots would be large enough in number to be noticed, that is what I would do. But maybe the best way of saying a plague in all your houses is not to vote at all, as Ian Blair suggested. He didn't get much support (and I take the point about letting in the extreme and the mad that way), but now I have looked at the candidates I see his point. Democratic control isn't just about having an election, it's about having good candidates to choose from for a worthwhile job.
It'll hurt me though. I haven't failed to vote since I got given the damn/precious right to do it.
(And when by the way did we decide on the SV system of voting? Did I miss something?)