I have a dilemma. On November 15th we will all have a vote for the newly created role of Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner. I have no idea who I should vote for. It is worse than that, I don’t even know on what basis I should be voting.
In a general election I feel that the wealth of information built up over the years, my knowledge of economics, my personal values, and memories of policies and decisions gone by at least give me something to base a decision on. I even feel confident enough on occasion to tactical vote. I know it’s the wrong thing to do but I feel that, increasingly, I am not voting for a local politician but for a national Government. I have no feelings either way about Patrick McLoughlin. I have never had need of his services, he has done me no harm and I have no idea whether he is kind to small children and animals. I do care about which party leads my country though.
My reasoning is that MPs are run by national parties. If they want to get on in the world of politics they need to conform and not cause a fuss. On a local level I would expect any local MP of whatever party to listen to my problems and to deal with them effectively – escalate them and make people listen. I have enough involvement in business with Government departments to know what noise a letter from an MP creates. I hope I never have a need to attend an MP’s surgery but I am confident enough in people’s ethics to trust them on a one-to-one basis. However, the things that really affect me are issues of national policy. I don’t get a chance to cast two votes – one for my local MP and another for a national government.
And so to our new Derbyshire PCC. There is a tremendous application on the Derbyshire Police Authority website that allows you to play the part of the PCC just in managing the Derbyshire police budget http://www.budgetsimulator.com/derbyshirepa. It allows you to adjust the focus of police spending over 12 areas while still making the budget balance. Well done to the DPA for using it as a way of getting public opinion on where the focus should be – unfortunately I suspect it is little used. You can get a feel of the impact of increasing local policing by 15% for yourself. The problem for me is that when I am faced with something like this I want to spend more on the things I understand and less on the things I don’t. So of course I want to spend more on local policing and less on national policing. I want to spend more on communication with the public and less on central costs. This is easy to do on a simple budget tool but I have no idea of the real consequences of the decisions.
I am sure police officers will have their own views on the right way to run the police service but even then it will be a valuable and informed, but partisan view. There will be candidates who have been part of the Council or the Derbyshire Police Authority, ex-police officers and some who have personal experience or even been victims of crime. They all will have part of the overall picture but not the whole thing.
I am confused as to why political parties are putting forward candidates. One of the first things the incoming PCC has to do is swear an oath of independence. The wording of the oath is:
I, FULL NAME of PLACE do solemnly and sincerely promise that I will serve all the people of Derbyshire in the office of police and crime commissioner without fear or favour.
I will act with integrity and diligence in my role and, to the best of my ability, will execute the duties of my office to ensure that the police are able to cut crime and protect the public.
I will give a voice to the public, especially victims of crime and work with other services to ensure the safety of the community and effective criminal justice.
I will take all steps within my power to ensure transparency of my decisions, so that I may be properly held to account by the public.
I will not seek to influence or prevent any lawful and reasonable investigation or arrest, nor encourage any police action save that which is lawful and justified within the bounds of this office.
This oath has been put in place to bring PCCs in line with judges and police officers – you don’t get political parties putting judges forward and presumably judges would think themselves above party politics. Nevertheless, the political candidates may have many of the skills necessary in the role.
I don’t want someone radically changing something which is fundamentally sound but I do want someone who will press for further progress in eliminating racism and thuggishness. I don’t want someone who will treat the police like any other service department – to take its share of cuts. I can see a clear difference between the police service and the national health service and all the other Government functions including the Armed Forces. We don’t have a choice with the former whereas we probably can choose cheaper policies with the other areas. I want someone who recognises that for the general public there is no such thing as “the police” – it’s all about personal experience. I am interested in the policing of Ashbourne first, Derbyshire second and nationally last of all.
I also think that the working relationship between the PCC and Chief Constable is one of the most important factors. Ultimately the Chief Constable does a good job of leading the police officers. Hopefully, having come up through the ranks, Mick Creedon is liked and respected amongst his teams. He doesn’t need a PCC to tell him how to do his job. What he needs is a partner who will act as a liaison between him and the wider stakeholders – Central Government, Local Government, pressure groups, local community and us, the General Public. He needs to feel that he has freedom to make decisions on operational issues but with clear accountability, direction and support from a PCC he respects and trusts. He doesn’t need someone he has worked with before, a friend or a political ally.
I am not going to get the information I need from leaflets or slogans. My vote will be swayed by the person who can convince me they can uphold the oath and who can explain to me what we specifically need in Ashbourne and how they are going to achieve and maintain it through the current climate. (After that I hope we have no need to hear from them again for the next four years). Whether we get a chance to hear those views is a different matter. And if we don’t… I may not vote for the first time in my life – not because I don’t “like” any of the candidates but because I don’t feel up to the job.