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Manchester And The Police Commissioner Elections

Maxwell Birch on a lack of ideas in a strange poll

Published on November 6th 2012.


Manchester And The Police Commissioner Elections

ON 15 NOVEMBER, elections will take place around the country, implementing the most radical reform of the police service in the last 50 years.

As a result, there will be 41 Police and Crime Commissioners elected, responsible for overseeing the actions of the police force in local areas, consulting with victims of crime and being held accountable for police behaviour.

The winning candidate will be elected for a four year term, with a yearly salary of up to £100,000.

The newly created position of 'Police and Crime Commissioner' was developed by David Cameron and the Conservatives in their 2010 manifesto to replace the current 'Police Authority'. The aim of the role is to increase the transparency of local police forces, while offering greater personal accountability of the police to the general public.

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Supporters of the move also claim that the decentralisation of the police force will go some way to end the bureaucratic nature of modern policing that has hampered the force, especially in these tough economic times and prevent them carrying out their ultimate responsibility, fighting crime.

The winning candidate will be elected for a four year term, with a yearly salary of up to £100,000. The role will require setting the policing agenda and setting out a plan to tackle certain aspects of crime within the area of governance. The Commissioner will also have to power to appoint and fire the Chief Constable, set policing budgets (within government guidelines), and decide how much public money should be allocated to pay for police services.

 Their role is to be a 'voice of the people', their decisions reflecting the views, wishes, and grievances of the local people which they will represent. It will encourage local people to take a direct, active role in policy making and setting the policing agenda for their area. It will in theory remove the power and influence over the police from Whitehall and put in the hands of local people to elect whoever they want to represent them.

There are however problems with these reforms.

Policing is an aspect of our society, so precious and delicate, that requires no political influence over its application. The newly created role requires someone who has a vast array of experience, not just dealing with policing and criminal justice.

Someone who is diplomatic, strategic and most importantly, willing to use the position to continue the development of a transparent, accountable force that is focused primarily on reducing crime and the protection of its citizens. This surely would indicate that the most effective appointment would be of an independent candidate, free from the shackles of official party policies?

Unfortunately, the £5000 deposit needed to run as a candidate puts off independent candidates. Why it isn’t £500, the same as the deposit for General Elections, is mystifying.

Police In Action During The August 2011 RiotsPolice In Action During The August 2011 Riots

The sole independent candidate for Greater Manchester, Roy Warren, will also face the unenviable task of canvassing more than one million people without being bankrolled by a major political party. Let’s hope his pockets are deep.

All  the major political parties have fielded a prospective Commissioner in the election. All have vowed to create 'innovative policing strategies' which is scarcely a surprise.

Despite the importance of the elections, voter turnout is expected to be low, some suggest as low as fourteen per cent. Clearly if this is the case, the democratic legitimacy of the elections will be called into question. If a candidate can win the election with a vote of just nine per cent of the vote, it can hardly be called representative.

Tony Lloyd from Labour wants to protect the police from any lurch towards Tory privatisation. Steven Woolfe, the UKIP candidate has pledged to end the “soft touch approach” to anti-social behaviour, while the Conservative representative Michael Winstanley, has indicated that he would “put victims first, and criminals last”.

Only Matt Gallagher was able to identify specific schemes that he would implement to protect the officers that are involved with anti-social behaviour and low level crime.

Gallagher has put forward a Police Apprenticeship Scheme to “put more police officers back on the beat and cut police involvement in non-crime issues”.

A “crackdown” on low level crime is something all would-be Commissioners seem to agree over.

It's enough to make a voter fall asleep.

All candidates have indicated their commitment to safeguarding the future of officers on the front line of policing, though whether it is possible to do this through the forthcoming slashing in the police budget will only become apparent in time.

As Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, has stated, the money spent on the Commissioner elections could have created 3,000 new police officers.

Lucy Powell, candidate for Manchester Central, Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary and Tony Lloyd, would-be Manchester Police CommissionerLucy Powell, candidate for Manchester Central, Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary and Tony Lloyd, would-be Manchester Police Commissioner

It has been far from an easy few months for the police.

Their relationship with the press was called into question during the Leveson enquiry, which was followed by an equally calamitous admission of negligence regarding the details given about the Hillsborough disaster which just this week forced the West Yorkshire Chief Constable Norman Bettinson to step down. The issues keep piling up. The new commissioners up and down the country will have their hands full as soon as they take office.Their relationship with the press was called into question during the Leveson enquiry, which was followed by an equally calamitous admission of negligence regarding the details given about the Hillsborough disaster which just this week forced the West Yorkshire Chief Constable Norman Bettinson to step down. The issues keep piling up. The new commissioners up and down the country will have their hands full as soon as they take office.

The idea of a police commissioner accountable to the public at every commissioner election is beguiling. If we don’t like the way things are going we chuck them out. These reforms are radical, a fundamental recalibration of the relationship between the general public and the individual. But if it is a step in the right direction then it seems a low-key and bewildering one.

One question going the rounds is why would the government seek to hold a flagship policy election during a dark, cold November day and night? It almost seems like a plan to limit turnout and damage the credibility of the commissioners. And why that £5,000 deposit? This ensures only the representatives of political parties will have a chance of election. Was that really the idea of the democratisation of policing?

Maybe it will take the experience of towns and cities actually having a police commissioner to galvanise interest. If the individual in question is active, engaged and decisive, if the odd chief constable gets fired, then maybe the public will pay attention.

ON 15 NOVEMBER, elections will take place around the country, implementing arguably the most radical reform of the police service in the last 50 years. As a result, there will be 41 Police and Crime Commissioners elected, responsible for overseeing the actions of the police force in local areas, consulting with victims of crime and being held accountable for police behaviour.

 

The newly created position of 'Police and Crime Commissioner' was developed by David Cameron and the Conservatives in their 2010 manifesto to replace the current 'Police Authority'. The aim of the role is to increase the transparency of local police forces, while offering greater personal accountability of the police to the general public. Supporters of the move also claim that the decentralisation of the police force will go some way to end the bureaucratic nature of modern policing that has hampered the force, especially in these tough economic times and prevented them carrying out their ultimate responsibility, fighting crime.

 

The winning candidate will be elected for a four year term, with a yearly salary of up to £100,000. The role will require setting the policing agenda and setting out a plan to tackle certain aspects of crime within the area of governance. The Commissioner will also have to power to appoint and fire the Chief Constable, set policing budgets (within government guidelines), and decide how much public money should be allocated to pay for police services. Their role is to be a 'voice of the people', their decisions reflecting the views, wishes, and grievances of the local people which they will represent. It will encourage local people to take a direct, active role in policy making and setting the policing agenda for their area. It will in theory remove the power and influence over the police from Whitehall and put in the hands of local people to elect whoever they want to represent them.

 

There are however problems with these reforms. Policing is an aspect of our society, so precious and delicate, that any political influence over it is a dangerous thing indeed. The newly created role requires someone who has a vast array of experience, not just dealing with policing and criminal justice. Someone who is diplomatic, strategic and most importantly, willing to use the position to continue the development of a transparent, accountable force that is focused primarily on reducing crime and the protection of its citizens. This surely would indicate that the most effective appointment would be of an Independent candidate, free from the shackles of Westminster, political rhetoric and official party policies?

 

Unfortunately, the £5000 deposit needed to run as a candidate serves as a rather off-putting reminder to aspirational Independent candidates that in elections such as these, the major political parties start with an enormous advantage. Independent candidate for Greater Manchester, Roy Warren, will also face the unenviable task of canvassing more than one million people who are eligible to vote for them, a mightily difficult task for a budget not strengthened by ties to a major political party.

 

Aside from the sole Independent candidate, all the major political parties have fielded a prospective Commissioner in the election. All have vowed to create 'innovative policing strategies' that will rebuild public trust and confidence in one of the most vital services in our society. Despite the importance of the elections, voter turnout is expected to be particularly low, some suggest as low as fourteen per cent. Clearly if this is the case, the democratic legitimacy of the elections will be called into question. If a candidate can win the election with a vote of just nine per cent of the vote, it can hardly be called a representative portrayal of the electorate.

 

Steven Woolfe, the UKIP candidate pledged to end the “soft touch approach” to anti-social behaviour, while the Conservative representative Michael Winstanley has indicated that he would “put victims first, and criminals last”. The 'crackdown' on low level crime is something that seems to be synonymous will all Commissioner candidates including Tony Lloyd from Labour whose only unique pledge seems to be to do his utmost to protect to police from any lurch towards Tory privatisation, although only Matt Gallagher was able to identify specific schemes that he would implement to protect the officers that are involved with anti-social behaviour and low level crime. Gallagher has put forward a 'Police Apprenticeship Scheme' forward to “put more police officers back on the beat and cut police involvement in non-crime issues”. All candidates have indicated their commitment to safeguarding the future of officers on the front line of policing, though whether it is at all possible to do this through the forthcoming slashing in the police budget will only become apparent in time.

 

With light being shed on the unpleasant side of policing in the recent months, pressure will be on the appointed Police Commissioner to clean up the elements of the force that caused such public outcry. This understandably will make those in power in the police force somewhat uneasy in itself, but declarations from the Independent candidate Roy Warren such as “I understand the need for cuts, and the fact that we have to do more for less” are hardly likely to instil a sense of security in the officers on the ground.

 

It has been far from an easy few months for the police. Their relationship with the press was called into question during the Leveson enquiry, which was followed by an equally calamitous admission of negligence regarding the details given about the Hillsborough disaster which just this week forced the West Yorkshire Chief Constable Norman Bettinson to step down. Then just last week came the news that officers had tasered an elderly blind man who they mistakenly thought to be carrying a samurai sword through a town centre. These events have left public opinion of police at an alarmingly low level so greater accountability of the force is certainly needed, but to regain trust in the police from the public, whoever is appointed commissioner will have a considerable task on their hands.

 

These reforms are radical and should be viewed as such. They are a constitutional change, a fundamental recalibration of the relationship between the general public and the individual, localised police force that is in place to serve them. Greater accountability and a democratic process to enable a more effective and responsible police force is a laudable aim, and whilst it has its shortcomings as an idea, it is a step in the right direction to put power back into the hands of local people, the public has a chance on 15th to have their voice heard, and influence the way in which their police force is organised and made more accountable, and that is an opportunity that needs to be taken.

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Poster BoyNovember 6th 2012.

Another pension for 'past it' politicians. another useless layer of government, masquerading as localism...

AnonymousNovember 6th 2012.

Very informative piece, why have we not heard more about such an important election,hidden agendas maybe??

AnonymousNovember 6th 2012.

Lets hope Manchester can resist the deep pockets of the Tory election machine

AnonymousNovember 7th 2012.

Great Article! Informative and inquisitive. Would like to know the reason behind the £5000 deposit or could it be another elitist Tory move that Cameron hopes will go unnoticed...

AnonymousNovember 8th 2012.

i suppose one way to look at it is that at least we are getting an elected representative that we will pay for, unlike all those arms-length organisations like marketing manchester and midas who pay loads to a load of people without any direct accountability.

AnonymousNovember 8th 2012.

We need more police on the beat not paying another high salary and pension for someone to give advice that I am sure the Police themselves could give. What about experience also? We cannot afford these high salaries for more Chiefs when we are not able to afford the Indians. More of our money being badly spent. I also think the voting turnout will be low - what a waste of time and money!

angelsNovember 8th 2012.

This is going to be an election by indifference. I am being asked to vote without any election manifesto to read. We are usually saturated with info about candidates in the media but no one has come knocking on my door to poll my opinion. In this digital age it looks like I will have to trawl through Google to find who my candidates are and it looks like there is going to be a political bias to contend with rather than a consensus of need in the community that serves nobody's self interest. Thank you for the article . Oh by the way my hubby is spending a fair few hours in the polling booth as an election officer and that is another expense to factor in unless it comes from the lost deposits of the candidates. I feel totally ill informed and naive and if I vote I have very little time to bull up on the candidates so Google here I come!

UrbaneFoxNovember 9th 2012.

Totally skeptical about the whole thing. While policing has its problems, on the whole hasn't crime been falling (well, reported crime at least)? Surely the actions and priorities of the police force should be determined by professional policemen based on their knowledge of an area, not on the whims of polticians pandering to voters.
Don't the Poilce already have forums in which they engage with the public? When my car got broken into a while back, I spent nearly as much time answering questionnaires on police services and priorities as I did speaking with a policeman?

AnonymousNovember 11th 2012.

I agree that this election is unnecessary, divisive, expensive. I even attended a hustings and get absolutely no idea what divided the candidates - i even asked this question of them and they couldnt respond .....what a waste of time and money. However, everyone should go and vote, but SPOIL YOUR BALLOT FORM with something like 'this election is a complete travesty of democracy/a total waste of money' or whatever you want. That way our dismay will not just be counted as apathy.

the Whalley RangerNovember 11th 2012.

Is there a minimum vote count required for the vote not to be invalidated on the grounds of willful democratic ignorance?

AnonymousNovember 12th 2012.

This is what happens when you have one.

www.guardian.co.uk/…/boris-johnson-stephen-greenhalgh-police-budget-cuts-london…

RobtrNovember 12th 2012.

It's not just Roy Warren who's without central party funding. The Lib Dem's aren't funding any of their PCC candidates. Matt is running his campaign on small donations from local people.

Natalie CaveyNovember 15th 2012.

spoiled ballot forms go straight in the bin, it is not a protest vote in anyway and is a waste of time.

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