I wouldn’t blame you if you had missed an important event taking place this week considering the almost zero publicity from the Coalition Government. This Thursday 15th November, you will be asked to vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) if you live in England and Wales, excluding London.
The newly elected PCC will replace the Police Authority, which are now abolished. I first wrote about this new role back in May 2011 after the House of Lords defeated the Coalition Government’s first go at the legislation. Needless to say the Government tweaked a few things and got it through the House of Lords the second time. I wrote then I was not in favour of the role and it was actually quite dangerous for our democracy to put all the powers the Police Authority had in the hands of one individual. I still stand by that view.
This was Conservative-proposed legislation but got through the House of Commons with Liberal Democrat votes. The PCC elections were meant to take place in May – at the same time as the Local Council elections – when the evenings are lighter but the yellow peril forced David Cameron to move the elections to November to deliberately lower the turn out as this would benefit them politically. Not because the Liberal Democrats have candidates – they certainly don’t have one in Ipswich – but they are trying to kill the legislation at birth through an abysmally low turnout which won’t give a mandate to the new Commissioner.
This a very dangerous game to play. The police are an important part of our society and as such must be held accountable to the people. This week may see accountability removed. The Police Authorities were made up of multiple councillors with the number of seats held by the political parties reflecting their share of the vote in the County or Metropolitan council elections. Now, just one person will have the police budget powers and they may be elected by less than 20% of registered voters.
Great Britain’s police are the envy of the world, with policing by consent of the people a core tenet of our society. On Thursday, the upholding of that consent will be taken away from a representative Police Authority and put in the hands of one man or woman. We are soon to enter dangerous waters.