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Going to the polls
04 May 2016

Well tomorrow is meant to be the biggest day in four years for policing governance; the public will decide who is responsible for policing in their force area until 2020.

Most people will wake up and know there was an election taking place, in Scotland the national Government is up for election, and in London a new mayor will be chosen. Elsewhere, local councillors will be selected. Some people will be keen to vote and will care about the result of some of these elections.

History tells us that, overall, the majority of people in the UK will not and pass polling booths on their way home from work without stopping.

When it comes to the coloured piece of paper marked Police and Crime Commissioner Election that is handed to those who do stop, most people will look at it in puzzlement. Few will know the impact their mark on that insignificant piece of paper will make.

I am the managing editor of the weekly policing journal and know a little about the current PCC, we have interviewed him, but aside of controversy over expenses he has rippled the waters of policing governance.

My choice then is daunting because, like most people across the country, until now I did not know who was standing.

I have had one leaflet through the door, from the Conservative Party, which probably denotes I am in an affluent part of the force area and more likely than not I can be relied upon to put a tick next to its candidate’s name, simply through loyalty to a political leaning.

I presume the other candidates have targeted their party’s meagre spending in areas in which they feel people will vote for them. I doubt any party will have spent enough to ensure a leaflet goes to every voter.

A quick check on who the other candidates are and I have a choice of Labour, UKIP and Liberal Democrat opposing the sitting Tory PCC.

There is no independent candidate, a similar position elsewhere. I would have liked to see a strong independent candidate as those who were successful in 2012 have a strong appeal, they can kick back against whichever party is in power and you know their views are not based on dogmatic belief.

A check on the choosemypcc website – this must be what the £2,700 Government’s promotional expenditure went on – and I see that my four candidates are a pretty uninspiring bunch, offering tired populist policies. One pledges to support officers (really?), another to prioritise detections (where have these candidates been?). And another to protect bobbies on the beat (now my blood pressure is rising).

None of the candidates have a great deal of political experience. We don’t have a Tony Lloyd (Greater Manchester’s PCC) or an Alun Michael (South Wales PCC), both former Government ministers who would be able to handle a media storm.

My candidates’ commentaries show little knowledge of policing and I suspect, should they be elected, would take a year to just find their feet.

In the first PCC elections in 2012, the Government spent £3 million publicising the elections, however, just 15 per cent turned out to vote on that cold November day.

Tomorrow though the turnout is likely to be 35-ish per cent, because people are already going to the polls to vote for their local councillor. The PCC election ballot paper will be an unwelcome democratic burden to most though.

In a few areas there are no other elections taking place and many people will be keeping a close eye on the turnout to check on the real PCC election count.
The majority of voters will make a sudden choice who will take on this potentially critical role.

They could be voting for someone who will simply gain a fantastic opportunity and high salary to spend four years learning about policing, or for someone who could become overwhelmed when serious questions are asked about a major policing issue that arises.

The Government will not care though, the ballot box will hold the elected official accountable, in 2020.

Until then I will have to hope that whoever is elected spends more time learning about policing and doesn’t decide to do something stupid. And nothing arises that requires the knowledge and experience of a seasoned politician.

I can’t wait four years to make another uninformed choice.


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