‘Dull and disappointing’ is a description of two things from 15th November: the weather, and apparently there was an election. Last week, voters in North Yorkshire, as well as in 40 other police force areas, braved the autumnal conditions and avoided falling on the soggy, browning leaves beneath their feet, to go to their local polling station and make their mark for a new police chief.
Prior to the PCC elections, many on the left were sceptical about the shift from police authorities to police and crime commissioners. In Greater Manchester, the Green Party encouraged voters not to bother making their mark. The election came and went, and with a 13.6% turnout, the Greens lambasted the lack of legitimacy from such a low turnout. Clearly a little confused…
What amazes me is the absurd suggestion that PCC elections are a) a bad thing, and b) illegitimate. Why should people in a local area not get a say in who organises their police services, and is therefore accountable for their safety? Before the elections, an appointed rather than elected body of officials, often being drawn from local authorities anyway (and therefore with a political motive), were responsible for our safety. This hardly seems fair, and I challenge you to name who was previously running police services in your area.
One of the greater things to come out of the elections was not only the number of independent candidates, but how many of them were actually elected. Twelve various police authorities around the country, out of a total of 41 (excluding the Met, which the inimitable Boris is in charge of), now have a police chief with a history in policing and who is less likely to be politically motivated.
What is interesting is that the new chiefs will be asked to take an oath of impartiality. Hopefully it will mean political hyperbole is removed, but will a commissioner, elected as a member of a party, with a mandate to govern, stick to it? It seems an outdated way of ensuring elected officials obey the rules. I’m sceptical, but it’s certainly something to look out for in your local area over the next few years.
The voting system used for the elections is also noteworthy. ‘Supplementary vote’, as it is known, has already been used in Mayoral elections in parts of the country such as in my home city of Salford, and allows the choice of two candidates. This allows voters to better demonstrate their political thoughts when in a polling station, instead of feeling their vote can’t possibly have an impact. It is excellent news for democracy (at least for those who voted, anyway). It also created some interesting spoilt papers, with votes reportedly going to Judge Dredd, Batman, and others.
Despite the abysmal turnout, what it is important to remember is that regardless of whether you support them or not, they are here to stay. The hope, and I believe it to be correct, is that the accountability to the public will inspire new thinking in areas that need it whilst ensuring that victims are always put first – after all, it is victims of crime who will essentially be going to the ballot box when the PCC is up for re-election. The way I see it, the real winners are victims, and the losers local yobs.